JEFFERSON CITY — So you've finally written that last check for your car or home after years — perhaps even decades — of monthly payments. What do you do now?
Some Missouri officials, who recently paid off the equivalent of a 30-year mortgage on dozens of state buildings, want to take out a new loan.
Missouri recently made the final payment on a $600 million bond issuance authorized by voters in 1982. With principle and interest, the final bill came to $1.25 billion. Here is a look at some of the larger projects financed by the bonds. Not included on this list are numerous smaller-dollar repairs and improvements.
Source: Missouri Office of Administration
When they convene in January, Missouri lawmakers will consider whether to ask voters to authorize a new bond issuance worth as much as $1 billion to finance construction at college campuses, repairs at state mental health institutions and office buildings and maybe even new road work.
There are "historically low interest rates, construction costs are down and the fact that we have neglected capital improvements — all of those things work together to make it a perfect time for bonding," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, who plans to sponsor a bonding bill.
Even so, Missouri must have the means to repay the bonds — a factor that stalled similar proposals during the recent lean budget years. Many lawmakers think that criterion now has been met, since the state made its final payment in October on the Third State Building Fund. That means millions of dollars that had been committed to old debt payments now is available for a new use.
The fact that "we've got that revenue stream available also makes it a good time to look at another bonding proposal," Schaefer, R-Columbia, said.
A narrow 51 percent majority of Missouri voters authorized the issuance of $600 million of bonds during a June 1982 special election to finance improvements to state buildings, parks and a variety of "economic development" projects such as water and sewer systems, highways, rail lines and efforts to curb soil erosion. The bonds were to be issued over the next five years and repaid during the ensuing 25 years.
In August 1982, then-Gov. Kit Bond summoned lawmakers into a special session to authorize the first batch of those bonds for dozens of specific projects. In a 50-page booklet prepared for lawmakers, Bond projected that the overall initiative would create 17,000 construction jobs over five years with a "ripple effect" of an additional 40,000 jobs in other segments of Missouri's economy.
It's unclear whether those precise job targets were met.
But Missouri officials are again citing job-creation as part of the impetus for a new bonding plan.
"The positive parts of a bonding proposal are we can actually put people to work almost immediately with building infrastructure that is greatly in need of being built or repaired or improved," said House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka.
The House passed a $700 million bonding plan for higher education institutions in 2009. But it later was expanded and ultimately abandoned in the Senate. Critics said the state shouldn't take on so much debt in the midst of a recession.
Although the recession is over, Missouri's economy is still far from robust, and the state budget is still recovering from a sharp decline in tax revenues.
"We always have to be cautious of making sure we're being responsible to the taxpayers as to the debt issue," Jones said. But "one of the missions of state government is to make sure the state is properly maintaining its resources. ... I think the question really is, is the time finally right to pursue this issue?
"I think an overwhelming number of Missourians would support such a proposal," Jones added.
But when should the question be put to voters? And what exactly should it entail?
On those details, there is no agreement yet.
Rep. Chris Kelly, who sponsored the failed 2009 measure and is backing another attempt in the 2013 session, wants the legislature to act quickly. Ideally, he wants to put a bonding proposal on the April ballot.
But Sen. Tom Dempsey, who is in line for the chamber's top spot come January, sees no need to rush. He envisions the bonding proposal appearing on the 2014 ballot. In the meantime, Dempsey said, it may be prudent to appoint a special legislative committee to travel the state, examine public buildings and make a determination about exactly which projects should be undertaken.
"It's something that's going to require a lot of work," said Dempsey, R-St. Charles.
Dempsey said he would prefer to keep a bonding plan for public buildings separate from any funding proposal for state highways.
But Kelly, D-Columbia, said Missouri officials may not have the political luxury of asking voters to approve two massive funding proposals within several years. Thus Kelly wants to consider combining the transportation and building projects in one measure.
"The problem is if you don't do them together, doing one probably kills the other for the foreseeable future," he said.
Either way, the bonding plans would commit Missouri to another generation worth of debt payments.
The state ended up with $636 million of principle payments from the 1982 initiative because a refinancing of the original bonds resulted in additional principle being issued. By the time all the interest was paid, the total bill came to $1.25 billion, according to figures from the state Office of Administration.