Missouri lawmakers: Not right time for building bonds

Thursday, February 18, 2010 | 9:22 p.m. CST; updated 11:23 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 18, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Top Republican and Democratic state lawmakers said Thursday that Missouri can't afford to issue $800 million in bonds for public buildings, despite legislative support for the measure last year.

The bonds would be used to fund construction and maintenance of state buildings, including some on college campuses.

Republican House Speaker Ron Richard, House Minority Leader Paul LeVota and Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields told reporters that the state shouldn't be taking on more debt during tough economic times.

"There's not an appetite for it," LeVota, D-Independence, said. "If we do this bonding we've got to find a way again to pay back the future, and it's just not the time for it."

Gov. Jay Nixon voiced support for a bonding plan after the 2009 legislative session ended and considered calling legislators back to the Capitol for a special legislative session. But no consensus was reached with lawmakers.

"I would think that'd be a pretty tough sell," said Shields, a Kansas City Republican. "People are looking at the budget, and the ability to incur more debt is just not there."

A similar proposal passed the House last year with more than 130 votes but stalled in the Senate.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, has refiled the proposed constitutional amendment this year. He said it still makes sense to approve the bonds so the state can take advantage of low construction costs and low interest rates.

"The logical argument in favor of it doesn't change one bit," Kelly said. "Nothing has changed except the politics."

Kelly said he thinks there is still enough supporters to get the proposal approved. House Floor Leader Steven Tilley is a co-sponsor.

Last session House Legislative leaders supported the proposal.

Richard, R-Joplin, said despite supporting the measure last year, the state can't afford to take on more debt right now. He said he doesn't plan to assign a committee to consider the measure.

"I'm not going to send bonding out, I'm going to keep it in my drawer," Richard said.

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