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Columbia Missourian

Missouri House committee approves $700 million bond

By Valerie Insinna
April 1, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY – A House committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a $700 million bond issue for higher education construction projects.

The proposal is backed by both a Democrat and a Republican, but voters would ultimately have the final say.

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If passed, the resolution would bring more than $81.4 million for MU construction projects, including $47.8 million for the renovation of Laferre Hall and $31.1 million for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. These projects were originally funded by the sale of Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority assets under an initiative backed by former Gov. Matt Blunt.

Co-sponsor Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, said Missouri's economic situation has created "a perfect storm" in which the state could use bonds to fund construction projects and stimulate job growth.

Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the time is right to issue bonds because people are looking for safe investments.

"Our interest rate will be low," he said. "The contractors are never going to be hungrier and the unions are never going to be hungrier. So we're going to get good rates to borrow the money, we're going to get good prices to get the work done, and the work that we're going to get done is vital."

The proposal would amend the state constitution to create a fund to pay for the bonds and interest. According to the resolution's current language, the State Board of Fund Commissioners would issue the bonds over time, with bonds maturing 25 years after they are issued.

UM System President Gary Forsee said the system has fallen behind on funding academic and research facilities, which do not have a natural source of funds.

"We rely on the state for that support, and as you know, that state support has been sporadic over time, has been uneven," he said.

MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said the university is in desperate need of capital investments in the medical and engineering fields.

"We have some critical needs that, frankly, are so bad in some cases they're embarrassing to the community," he said.

Although no one opposed the bill, some witnesses questioned whether bonds could also be used to fund state parks.

Columbia resident Susan Flader, a retired MU professor and former president of the State Parks Association, said there has been no major capital money for parks in 25 years.

"There could be an addition (to the bill)," she said. "Instead of $700 million, it could be $800 million."