JEFFERSON CITY — Southwest Missouri State University’s name-change bid took a major step backward Wednesday when it was defeated in the House by a vote of 81-70.
Republicans — including one of the major House Republican leaders, Rep. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau — joined the opposition to the measure.
The House vote puts the SMSU name change in between a legislative rock and a hard place.
Senate approval required an agreement to tie the bill to a $190.4 million bond issue. But in the House, Republican opponents cited fiscal irresponsibility as a major reason to vote against the measure.
“If you vote for this, you are voting for bonding,” said Rep. Brian Yates, R-Lee’s Summit. “This is all about the money.”
Rep. B.J. Marsh, R-Springfield, who sponsored the name-change bill in the House, said after the vote that the bond issue “muddied the water” and made it harder to get the bill passed.
But, he said, a bond issue would likely have to be a critical component of any name-changing package for SMSU.
“I’m convinced that the bond issue is the only way the name-change bill is going to pass,” Marsh said. “It’s going to be difficult unless you bring in MU.”
House Republicans have not been alone in their opposition to the controversial bond proposal.
Leading Senate Republicans, including Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. John Russel, R-Lebanon, were also vocally critical of the bond proposal last week.
But their attitudes have since softened. On Monday they said they were optimistic that the bond could be issued.
Despite the setback today, Republican leaders refused to call the defeat in the House a permanent setback for the name-change proposal.
“I think the chances (for passage) are still strong,” said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, who sponsored the bill in the Senate.
One of the major criticisms of the SMSU name-change bill is that it could reduce funding for all higher education institutions in Missouri by increasing competition for available resources.
But supporters of the bill say that it is a marketing tool for SMSU, and that the name-change will help better reflect the mission of the school. They also maintain that it will not create competition for education funds.
Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, filibustered the name-change bill for five days. He said that he was pleased with the House’s rejection of the bill, but he also cautioned that the vote — while damaging — is by no means final.
“Nothing is ever dead until the last day of session,” Jacob said. “Then there’s always next year.”
In the Senate, Kinder’s bill was put aside after a preliminary Senate vote.
Under a signed agreement reached between Kinder and Jacob, no further action will be taken in the Senate until the UM bond issue bill is approved by both the House and Senate.
That agreement also requires that Kinder take no actions against legislative authorization for the university to lease land in Columbia a hotel and conventioncenter complex.