Measure to Fund College Construction Projects Progresses

Jefferson City — Today the House Sub-committee on Transportation and Infrastructure unanimously passed out of committee a joint resolution to seek a constitutional amendment to issue bonds for construction projects at Missouri public colleges and universities.

The proposal, co-sponsored by Reps. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) and Steven Tilley (R-Perryville), calls for $700 million in general obligation bonds to build each public institution's top construction priority, and the projects identified in the 2007 Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative for which funds are not currently available.

"It's a good bill," said Tilley. "It puts people to work right out of the gate, and the work we're going to get done is vital."

Kelly told the committee that the time is right to issue new building bonds.

Federal stimulus funds may be tapped to pay as much as one-third of the interest costs on the bonds. In addition, the state would not have to commit additional resources to the bonds because payments to retire the 1983 Third State Building Bonds will drop from $33.4 million in 2011 to $5.5 million in 2012 and are completed after 2013.

"The bond market is hungry," Kelly said. "What could be safer than Triple A general obligation bonds?"

Presidents or representatives of 22 of the state's public institutions appeared before the committee to support the resolution. Ken Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, said the stars are aligned for passage because interest rates will be the lowest in decades, the state's existing bond debt is being retired and the construction will create and sustain jobs.

"We calculate the project on our campus will create 253 jobs and generate $10 million in sales and tax revenue during the construction period," Dobbins said. By using energy efficient building and renovation techniques, he predicted the university would save $75,000 per year in utility costs.

North Central Missouri College President Neil Nuttall of Trenton, representing the Missouri Community College Association, said all 12 community college regions in the state favor the bonds. They stand to receive about $58 million from bond sales. Approximately half would be spent on new construction to accommodate community colleges' current 7 percent growth in enrollment.

The committee also heard testimony from business and industry groups in support of the resolution.

Garry Kemp, of the Greater Kansas City Building and Construction Trades Council, said each dollar spent on construction projects results in $2.35 in economic activity in local communities.

Larry Moore, chairman of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said the bond proposal represents a great long term investment that leads to the sustained growth that is essential to small businesses.

The Department of Higher Education compiled the list of construction priorities. Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of higher education, said it represents agreement among the public 2- and 4-year institutions across the state.

"The Coordinating Board for Higher Education has always agreed on the need for capital improvements on our state's college campuses," Wagner said. "The fact that all the public institutions came together to speak with one voice about their needs says volumes about the timeliness of this measure."

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