Bond Proposal Would Boost Construction on College Campuses

Jefferson City — Public colleges and universities in Missouri may be able to dust off construction plans that had been placed on the shelf last year due to budget constraints.

Representatives Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, sponsored House Joint Resolution 32 to create a bonding fund for capital improvements on college campuses.

"There's never been a better time to issue bonds," Kelly told a group of institution supporters. "The need is undeniable, contractors are hungry and interest rates are low. We can generate good-paying jobs in every corner of the state."

HJR 32 would create the Fifth State Building Fund as a mechanism for issuing $700 million in general obligation bonds. That amount would pay for the public institutions' top building priorities.

A provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act could sweeten the deal by using federal economic stimulus funds to pay 35 percent of the interest on the bonds.

Funds would help construct facilities to educate future nurses, automotive technicians, engineers, scientists and others around the state.

State Fair Community College in Sedalia and Linn State Technical College would build and renovate automotive technology facilities. Metropolitan Community Colleges in Kansas City would build a Health Science Institute and the University of Missouri-St. Louis would construct a College of Optometry/College of Nursing. Missouri State University in Springfield would use the funds to build the Ozarks Health and Life Science Center and Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau would construct an Applied Science Complex.

The funds could also be used to construct Lewis & Clark Discovery Initiative projects that were suspended due to lack of funding.

"The need to construct up-to-date facilities on Missouri campuses is way overdue," Kelly said. "Colleges will always have to borrow to do these major projects. The bond fund provides a revenue stream that will allow them to do so."

When Missouri's 2010 budget outlook predicted a shortfall, Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of higher education, hosted a forum to explore ways to finance the backlog of construction, renovation and repair on state campuses.

"Bonds rose to the surface immediately as the best way to provide capital for these projects, and I'm greatly encouraged to see representatives Kelly and Tilley taking the initiative to get this process started," Wagner said.

The next step for HJR 32 is assignment to a House committee. If passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, the provision would go to Missouri voters in November 2010.

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