Bipartisan resolution would fund higher education projects

Monday, March 2, 2009 | 9:35 p.m. CST; updated 11:17 p.m. CST, Monday, March 2, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — Up to $700 million of education building projects would be funded under a ballot proposal co-sponsored by Columbia's senior Democrat and the House Republican floor leader.

The bipartisan proposal, which was introduced Monday afternoon, would authorize the General Assembly to issue bonds up to $700 million for higher education building and maintenance projects and would be presented to Missouri voters in the next general election.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the adoption of the amendment would solve two problems: creating jobs and funding higher education building projects.

"It would meet the first priority capital need of every campus in the state," Kelly said. "It would do so by issuing general obligation bonds without any tax increase. It would also provide many, many hundreds of jobs this year when the economy needs them the most."

The resolution has been co-sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, in an effort to foster bipartisanship, Kelly said.

But a former House Majority floor leader came forward as one of the first critics. Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said he doesn't "think this has a chance of passing."

"This is the last time in the world that we need to be participating in generational theft by issuing more and more bonds to satisfy the appetite of today's wants and desires," Crowell said. "So I wouldn't be supportive in any way, shape or form of going further in debt."

Crowell said the state should be working on reducing the debt already incurred during past administrations and that "now is not the time to be maxing out the state's credit card."

"I'm kind of taken aback that it seems once again that the Obama spending-money-you-don't-have philosophy has taken over not only in Washington, D.C., but a few individuals in Jefferson City," Crowell said.

This would be the fifth building fund backed by issuing bonds. The last one that reached the level of Kelly's was in 1982, during Republican Sen. Kit Bond's second term as governor, which issued about $600 million in bonds, according to Kelly.

The resolution comes in the wake of Gov. Jay Nixon's suspension 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.

Kelly said the funds generated by the bonds are intended to fund projects for which MOHELA has suspended financing.

"MOHELA was always a false promise," Kelly said. "It was just a Ponzi scheme that finally collapsed."

The bonds would be paid back in 20 years and should not require a tax increase to do so, Kelly said.

The resolution does allow for a direct tax to be levied each year on all taxable physical property in the state in order to pay for the interest on the bonds if the General Assembly does not appropriate enough money to do so.

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Ayn Rand March 4, 2009 | 5:30 p.m.

Here's an idea: Instead of the feds sending $900 million to help rebuild Gaza -- I thought money was tight? -- spend it here.

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