Holden, GOP diverge on life sciences plans

Friday, January 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:41 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

Though often at odds, Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, and Republican legislative leaders agree on the need to boost the University of Missouri system’s life sciences. But the governor and the lawmakers have offered up two different plans for spending millions of dollars to meet the goal and have yet to coordinate their efforts.

Holden’s Jobs Now program and a bond proposal promoted by Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder and House Speaker Catherine Hanaway both target expansion of life sciences to create new jobs in the state. Kinder and Hanaway back a UM proposal to issue $190.4 million in bonds to build and renovate life sciences facilities. The plan would cost the state’s revenue fund $11.6 million a year for debt service beginning in 2008.

Holden said his plan is “cost neutral” — meaning it would rely on revenue generated by revisions to the state’s tax credit programs to underwrite the sale of $150 million to $200 million in bonds.

Neither side could comment on the other’s plans. Kinder said Holden did not share details of Jobs Now with legislators who would have to approve it in the coming session, which opens Wednesday. Jack Cardetty, a representative for Holden, said the governor can’t comment on the UM bond proposal because he has yet to see the details.

“The governor has not bothered to brief us,” Kinder said. “There has been no communication. He announced it to the press without telling us about it.”

Holden announced the Jobs Now program Dec. 23. That day, Cardetty said, Holden sent a letter about his program to Kinder’s office. The letter, which Kinder said arrived too late for legislators to respond to, said the governor welcomes “the opportunity to work with you on a plan for the immediate creation of additional new jobs in Missouri.”

Meanwhile, some Democrats are supportive of the Republican lawmakers’ plan to fund life sciences.

Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, said investments, such as the proposed $20.9 million renovation of the MU engineering building, are inevitable.

“If you had a house that was badly leaking and damaging your belongings, you wouldn’t say, ‘I have to wait until I get a higher-paying job to fix it,’ ” she said. “In order to stimulate the economy and make sure we are positioned for the future, we have to start making those investments now.”

Riback Wilson said she wants to support both the governor’s program and the bond proposal. The Jobs Now program would be needed “regardless of what else we do.”

Holden’s Jobs Now plan would give grants and loans to cities and public institutions for “immediate infrastructure development,” including transportation and public and educational buildings. It would also allow community colleges to borrow money to expand job training programs and invest in the expansion of facilities for life sciences training. The governor wants to obtain more federal money by identifying programs that qualify for federal support, such as project planning and payment of bonds.

Holden wants to fund Jobs Now by eliminating some of the state’s 54 tax-credit programs. Legislators have passed 25 such programs into law since 1990 that, according to Holden, have cost the state more than $4 billion in revenue.

The $190.4 million bond issue proposed by Republican legislative leaders would fund renovation and construction of life sciences facilities on all four UM campuses. The plan also calls for $75 million to build a new Health Sciences Research Center on the MU campus.

Despite a $1 billion budget deficit projected by state budget director Linda Luebbering, proponents of the bond project say financing won’t be a problem.

“The plan is structured so we can quickly receive economic benefits that will help us finance the debt-service levy that will begin in fiscal year 2008,” Hanaway said.

Kinder said the plan is based on UM’s Endowed Chair and Professorship Program, which has attracted more than $90 million in permanent funding from donors to endow 120 chairs and professorships. The General Assembly appropriated $16 million for the program from 1995 to 1998. In 1999, lawmakers boosted UM’s core funding by $4 million a year to support the program, said UM spokesman Joe Moore.

“Over the past three years, these faculty have generated approximately $98 million in external research funding,” Moore said. “For an annual investment of $4 million during each of those years, the return on investment is over 800 percent.”

According to the proponents of the bond issue, for every dollar the state invests in life sciences projects, UM expects to raise $5 from federal and private sources.

“When we have that state funding,” Moore said, “we’re able to approach private and federal sources and be taken seriously, because we’ve already raised a significant amount of money.”

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