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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

NC trend: What you missed in the NC Tribune

Nearly $270 million in broadband grants awarded within weeks

Broadband internet expansion efforts took a big leap forward in recent weeks as the N.C. Department of Information Technology awarded $267 million in grants to internet providers, doling out the majority of the $350 million in federal funding allocated by the legislature last year.

Lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology got an update on the effort. The grants — by far the largest ever in the program’s history — were announced in three batches as the application process wrapped up, giving internet providers an infusion of funding to expand into areas that lack high-speed internet. Nate Denny, DIT’s deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity, said 92 of the state’s 100 counties are receiving funding. In many of the eight counties not included, the agency didn’t receive project applications.

Some of the applications were slowed by protest petitions from other internet providers, some of which argued they were already planning to serve the area included in the application. That prompted questions from legislators who wanted to know if those areas are in danger of missing out if the company that protested doesn’t follow through to offering service.

Budget mandate kicks off overhaul of massive state government complex

The recently enacted state budget’s nearly $200 million plan for state government buildings in downtown Raleigh will reshape the area in the coming years. But first it’s triggering a rush to move hundreds of state employees ahead of a series of fast-approaching deadlines. Elected officials have debated ways to modernize the state’s collection of aging office buildings for years, dating back at least to former Gov. Pat McCrory’s “Project Phoenix” idea for mixed-use development.

The new plan was developed by budget writers, legislative staffers and Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble with little public deliberation before it was released in June’s budget conference report. It calls for replacing the Administration Building on West Jones Street with a new, $169 million “Education Campus” that will put the UNC System Office under the same roof as the Department of Public Instruction, community college system and Department of Commerce. Senate leader Phil Berger has said he thinks the state’s education and economic development leadership can collaborate more effectively under one roof. The governor’s office, along with a meeting space for the Council of State, will move down the street to a $88 million building to be constructed on the surface parking lot in front of the State Archives building. 

Construction of those buildings are still years away, but in the meantime, the budget calls for something of a game of musical chairs for state employees. Department of Administration Chief Deputy Secretary Mark Edwards calls the budget deadlines “extremely aggressive,” given the delays the construction industry faces nationwide.

As it awaits a new building, the UNC System is subleasing 51,000 square feet of space at The Dillon office building in downtown Raleigh for about $73 per square foot per year. The lease, which includes 154 parking spaces, will run from October through September of 2026.

Campaign Spotlight: House District 9

District 9 is the most competitive legislative district in the Greenville area, as first-term Rep. Brian Farkas seeks to defend the seat he flipped from the GOP in 2020.

The Democrat: Farkas works as director of development and client services at the Greenville architecture firm led by his father. His voting
record in the legislature is somewhat moderate, and he serves on committees dealing with transportation, community colleges and commerce.

The Republican: Tim Reeder is an emergency room doctor, the latest in a series of physicians who have run for or held the same House seat (including U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy). He holds a master’s degree in public health and has held leadership roles in the N.C. Medical Society.

The district: Southern Greenville and Pitt County, including the towns of Winterville, Ayden and Grifton. In 2020, the district voted 51% for President Joe Biden and 53% for Gov. Roy Cooper.

Of note: Medical group PACs have donated heavily to Dr. Reeder’s campaign, which has raised $132,000 so far. Farkas has raised about $200,000 this cycle. 

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