Lawmakers consider Missouri fund for college buildings

Saturday, May 5, 2012 | 4:04 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers are considering a new way to help pay for construction on college campuses amid ongoing capital improvement needs.

The proposal would create the Higher Education Capital Fund to provide state matching funds for local contributions for new higher education building projects. Colleges and universities would apply for the state money, and the funds would be limited to no more than half the project costs.

Missouri's four-year and two-year institutions would be eligible for the funding. The institutions would need to raise private funds and couldn't count money from their operating budgets, tuition or fees. Money from the capital fund could not be used for athletics facilities or other revenue-generating structures, and lawmakers would need to approve funding for each project.

Sen. Tim Green, who is sponsoring the legislation, said state funding has been tight over the past decade and that offering matching funds could help colleges attract private contributions and lessen the burden of capital improvement needs.

"We're trying to get local communities to take ownership in their public universities by helping fund for the capital because the state of Missouri cannot afford to do it all by themselves anymore," said Green. D-St. Louis.

Missouri officials in recent years have considered proposals to boost funding for campus construction projects.

Lawmakers in 2009 considered seeking approval from voters to issue several hundred million dollars in bonds to cover the top construction needs at each public university and community college. The measure cleared the House but stalled in the state Senate.

In 2007, the legislature approved then-Gov. Matt Blunt's plan to use $350 million from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority to support campus building projects. Some projects were put on hold after the student loan authority was unable to make all its scheduled payments.

Budget documents from the state Department of Higher Education show Missouri's colleges and universities have requested nearly $4 billion for all capital needs, which includes long-range projections for future needs as distant as in the 2028 fiscal year.

Senators approved legislation creating the new capital improvement fund in March, and the proposal has cleared a House committee with a few changes. Lawmakers have two weeks to approve legislation before their constitutionally mandated adjournment May 18.

Rep. Chris Kelly, who is handling the legislation in the House, said the possibility for state matching funds could help spur private donations for much-needed capital improvement.

Kelly, D-Columbia, has been one of the leading supporters of issuing bonds for capital improvements. He said he continues to support the idea, but that "I don't have my druthers, and we do the best we can."

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