Agreement reached for higher ed construction projects

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Legislative leaders reached agreement late Saturday on a bond package totaling about $200 to fund long-range construction projects on university and community college campuses.
The Legislature has routinely issued bonds, incurring state debt, to finance various new construction, repairs and renovations and other infrastructure improvements.
During the 2012 session, legislative leaders were unable to agree on a total and thus the Legislature did not approve a bond package.
This year both House Ways and Means Chair Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, and Senate Finance Chair Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, expressed optimism that an agreement would be reached. Still, though, it came only a few hours from the 8 p.m. Saturday deadline.
The package most likely will be voted on today.
The package included $97 million for university projects, including funds for University Medical Center, where a medical school expansion is planned, and $25 million for the 15 community colleges. Specifics on other projects in the bond bill, such as for transportation needs, for state office buildings or for items in local communities, were not available Saturday night.
Fillingane said the agreement also deauthorizes $230 million in bonds that had been approved by the Legislature in earlier sessions, but for various reasons have never been issued. Plus, he said $240 million of bonds will be paid off this year, meaning the $200 million package will not add to existing debt.
“It is a conservative, reasonable, rational bond bill,” he said.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com