College bonding bill clears Senate committee
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College bonding bill clears Senate committee

Date: April 29, 2009
By: Sarah D. Wire
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HJR 32

JEFFERSON CITY - Columbia Rep. Chris Kelly's $700 million higher education bond issue cleared a Senate committee Wednesday with a $100 million boost.

Under Kelly's layout for the bonds, Columbia would get more than $50 million in funds for new construction and renovation of buildings on the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri.

As approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee 7-4,  the proposed constitutional amendment would authorize up to $800 million in bonds for capital improvement projects.  Statewide voter approval would be required before the legislature actually could issue the bonds.

The original $700 million bond issue proposal cleared the House earlier this month by an overwhelming majority 131-28. 

The Senate committee added $100 million to the total amount of bonds that the legislature could issue, if the proposal is approved by Missouri voters.

A bond is an IOU taken out by the government. The person or business which buys a bond loans money to the state in exchange for a predetermined interest rate.

Under the plan before the legislature, at least $550 million would go to campus renovations at higher education institutions across the state. Up to $250 million could be used for construction on state buildings and projects.

The last major building construction bond issue was passed by Missouri voters more than one quarter of a century ago.  Under the 1982 proposal of then-Gov. Kit Bond,  $600 million in bonds were authorized for building construction and maintenance projects.

Except for defining broad categories, the proposal does not identify specific projects for the bonds.  But Kelly gave the committee a list of needed construction and renovation projects that would include:

The list also includes money for the projects that were supposed to be funded by the sale of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, this includes $31 million for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center.

There are two possibilities for funding the facility, which lawmakers say is an attempt to make sure it is funded.

The legislature is not required to follow Kelly's list, which represents top needs outlined by the state's Coordinating Board of Higher Education. Lawmakers would determine what projects are funded if the bond sale is approved by voters.

Kelly told the committee that there is $1.7 billion in state need.

"There is a number of state buildings we need to fix," Kelly said. "If we can get some significant state work done here we'll have progress."

Four of the Senate Appropriation Committee's seven Republican members voted against the proposal.

Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, questioned if he should be asked to vote on funding new projects even though the MOHELA funded construction in his district has stalled.

"I haven't gotten fulfillment on the promise we had last time," Purgason said. 

Purgason is the chairman of the Government Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee. He has the power to kill the bonding bill simply by choosing not to bring it up before his committee.

Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said all of the projects funded by MOHELA haven't been finished.

"The legislature promised those projects would be top priority," he said. "Before we talk about new projects let's fulfill those promises."

Dempsey said the state should wait to take out new bonds until after the economy recovers.

"Before we sign off on hundreds of millions of dollars, almost a billion dollars, lets know where we stand," he said. "If it's a good idea this year then it'll be a good idea next year."

All of the committee's Democrats voted for the measure.  But one, a former chair of the House Budget Committee, expressed concern with giving the legislature expanded control in choosing in building projects on community colleges. 

"We're getting on a slippery slope now that we're doing construction on community colleges as well," said Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County.t is "becoming the state's responsibility."

The resolution comes after Gov. Jay Nixon's suspended of some of the funds for higher education building projects -- some of those funded by the sale of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority's assets.