JEFFERSON CITY - After a bond issue that would raise nearly $750 million for higher education construction projects fell short near the end of the 2009 legislative session, its sponsor Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, is putting the issue forward. And once again, the amendment has both wide bi-partisan support in the House and an uncertain future in the Senate.
Kelly, a Democrat in his second, non-consecutive term, proposed the bond, which would be placed before voters in the November 2010 general election. He said the bill would guarantee at least $81 million for capital improvements at MU, namely at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and the Lafferre Hall engineering building, along with nearly $91 million for Missouri State University.
The state higher education planning board was asked to give the list of highest priority projects that would be put in the bill. The bill has over 50 co-sponsors, including House Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley, R-Perryville.
"We want to spend money on the things that are most important," Kelly said. "That's what this bill does."
The bill would fund $590 million in "top priority" building construction throughout the state and just less than $110 million on projects halted when Gov. Jay Nixon stopped the initiatives that were to be funded through the sale of Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority assets. An additional $66 million would go to 12 community colleges.
Last year, the bill passed the House 131-28 but died in a filibuster led by Sens. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, and Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau. Crowell said he would again withhold his support for the bill until he was satisfied the state could afford the interest payments in a time of state budget cuts.
"My issue is wanting to know what the costs are, what the debt structures are going to be and where the money is," Crowell said, comparing the bill to buying a house. "Can I afford to keep the lights on in the home I buy? That's what I want to see, and I haven't seen it yet."
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he would once again represent the bill in the Senate. He expected a challenge, given the nature of the Senate, in which any one senator can stall debate indefinitely. He said he would again stress to skeptical senators that the bill would only put the amendment to a statewide vote.
"I don't think it's appropriate to keep an issue like that, that's so critical to the economic development of Missouri, from the vote of the people," Schaefer said.
Kelly said the bonds would be issued at very low rates, and at a time when construction prices are low. And, he said, it would create jobs in a bad economic environment.
"This would do a lot of good in a time of uncertainty," Kelly said. "People are begging for work."
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