$422.9M bond bill approved

JACKSON – Both the House and Senate passed a $422.9 million bond bill compromise on Sunday, though not without some debate about the size of the proposal and whether legislators should be issuing debt when there still is no agreement to fund state government.
The bond proposal contains $50 million to improve highways for economic development with $40 million of that total presumably to four-lane state Highway 9 near the Toyota plant at Blue Springs to state Highway 348 north of the plant.
In the House, some argued the four-laning was not needed, but was “a pet project” of Gov. Haley Barbour. Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said the 18-wheelers going from the Toyota plant north already could travel four-lane highway on U.S. 78 and 45 and the distance would not be much farther.
Holland said the four-laning was destroying “some of the most pristine country in Northeast Mississippi” and was not being requested by Toyota officials. Holland said other highways in Northeast Mississippi, such as U.S. Highway 15, needed four-laning more than Highway 9 did.
In a statement Sunday night, Barbour said, “Unless Mississippians want suppliers to avoid the areas north of Tupelo and locate somewhere around Memphis or Columbus – or even worse, have existing suppliers in Kentucky or Illinois ship parts to Blue Springs – then we must improve the roads for when Toyota begins full production.”
The $1.3 billion Toyota plant is scheduled to open later this year and employ at least 1,500. At full production sometime next year, employment is expected to reach 2,000. Suppliers to the plant will hire about 2,000 workers, too.
The state provided about $300 million in bonds in 2007 to lure the automaker to Northeast Mississippi.
Last year the Legislature approved $90 million to four-lane state Highway 9 south of the plant. The effort to four-lane Highway 9 north of the plant has been more controversial.
The road controversy also spilled over to the effort to locate a civil rights museum in Jackson. There were efforts in the House to hold the bond bill, which included money for the Toyota highways, until there was an agreement on the civil rights museum.
Barbour endorsed the civil rights museum earlier this session, but Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, and others indicated Sunday he was not doing enough to bring the issue to fruition. Some wanted to hold the bond bill until there was an agreement on the civil rights museum.
That effort lost, and eventually the bond bill passed both chambers by large margins, though there might be efforts to revisit the issue today. Late Sunday, negotiations between House and Senate leaders over the civil rights museum continued.

No budget agreement
The Legislature worked this weekend as it tried to reach agreements on a budget and bond bills during the final scheduled days of the 2011 session.
But with no agreement on the budget, the length of the session will have to be extended to adhere to constitutional mandates that the budget be passed before the final five days of the session. If legislators reach a budget accord in the coming days, they can leave on time and “extend the session on paper.”
The bond bill included $270 million to fund construction projects and repairs and renovations on state buildings and college campuses. That is roughly the same amount of debt the state is paying off, meaning the bill will not result in an increase in the amount paid each year for bonded indebtedness, Senate Finance Chair Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said.
The other $152.9 million is for potential economic development projects, and $83 million of that total is for a loan that would be paid back.
Some in the Senate argued the bond bill amount should be reduced.
“If you want more industry and more jobs, you should vote for this bill,” Kirby countered. “If not, God have mercy on you.”

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal