JEFFERSON CITY — A bond bill to fund construction of buildings related to scientific research throughout the state was almost doubled Monday night by the time the Senate Appropriations Committee approved it.
The bond’s newly enlarged total, measuring $350 million, accounts for projects beyond those requested by the University of Missouri system in the original bonding bill, as well as the debt service. The bill would provide money for fifteen projects at 12 colleges and universities throughout Missouri.
MU alone would receive about $90.7 million from the bond, which would be used to construct a life-science research center and fund renovations to the Engineering East building on campus.
The other UM system campuses in Rolla, Kansas City, and St. Louis would receive roughly $101.4 million, which would be used in construction and renovation projects.
Some committee members were concerned that institutions across the state were using the “life science” mantle to justify construction requests that seemingly had little, if anything, to do with life-science research.
Even the definition of life science was subject to debate in the committee.
“What qualifies as a life-science project?” asked Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles. “How do we judge the limit of how much we can spend, when we don’t even know how many life-science projects we actually have?”
Committee members cited four projects in particular that they said were questionably related to the intent of the bond.
Requests and needs
Lincoln University was cut from the funding bill altogether because it requested additional money for a swimming pool. One of the projects for UMKC was threatened because it would also fund construction of a sewer system, plaza and police station on campus. Linn Tech was criticized for requesting a facility for repairing trucks. Harris-Stowe requested an early childhood education center.
“I think almost every institution has legitimate needs,” Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, said in an interview before the meeting.
He said the bill was not necessarily as pork-filled as some thought it was.
“Even though it has that pork-barrel look to it, they’re (the projects) probably all needed,” he said.
The debate over the bonding bill wore on the committee members’ nerves. Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, said he was fed up with the bill that had hung over the appropriations committee for more than three weeks.
“I’ve about had it with this project,” said Russell, the committee chairman. “We’re not going to debate this for the next six months. I can’t keep this up.”
Though the bond survived Russell’s late-night ire, it is in a far from comfortable position. The bond will still have to survive debate on the Senate floor — where all the members will be free to propose further projects to be funded by bonds. After that, it will have to go to the House for further discussion.
Sen. Mary Bland, D-Kansas City, said she would introduce an amendment that would require participating universities to contract a certain percentage of their services to minority-owned businesses.
“This is about inclusion in a project,” Bland said.
When introduced in the committee, the amendment was met by a great deal of hostility.
The original intent
The bond was originally introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, as a way to help move along a bill that would change the name of Southwest Missouri State University to Missouri State University.
Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, filibustered that name change. The bond was, in theory, a compromise that would have essentially given the UM system money and allowed Southwest Missouri State to take the new name.