Bond proposals far apart

other_state_govBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Bond proposals have passed both the Mississippi House and Senate, but that does not mean the two chambers will agree on a package to send to Gov. Phil Bryant for his signature.

Both House and Senate leaders said they want to hold the overall bond package to about $200 million. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said the state pays off between $200 million to $250 million of its debt each year.

The goal, leaders on both sides have said, is that they do not want to increase the state’s debt by issuing bonds to finance long-term construction projects,

“We will get it (final agreement) down to $199 million or nothing,” said House Ways and Means Chair Jeff Smith, R-Columbus. “We have had nothing before.”

The Senate passed one bond bill totaling $95.9 million. The bill is crafted in such a manner, though, to include other bond proposals when House and Senate leaders meet late in the session in conference committee to develop a final proposal to be voted on by the House and Senate.

The House, on the other hand, has passed multiple bond bills totaling $431 million, according to a compilation done by legislative staff.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves indicated he is disappointed with the size of the House bond package.

“We are a long way apart,” said Reeves, who presides over the Senate. “…Although you hate to say no to your friends, you have to sometimes if you are going to be fiscally responsible.

“I expect the Senate to do that over the next four weeks” remaining in the 2014 legislative session.

Last session, the Legislature, at the urging of state universities, agreed to a three-year commitment in bonds for higher education totaling $257 million. Under that plan, the universities would be set to receive about $92 million during the 2014 session of the Legislature for building and renovation projects at all eight universities.

Other major projects passed by the House include as much as $46.2 million to complete work on the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Mississippi History in Jackson, $55 million for renovations for the Mississippi Coliseum and Trademart, $10.5 million for a Byram-Clinton Parkway in Hinds County, $12 million for Viking Range in Greenwood and $25 million for the 15 community colleges.

Eric Clark, executive director of the state Community College Board, said the two-year schools had building and renovation needs totaling $165 million and would like to receive bonding authorization equaling that of the four-year schools.

“We have a high amount of needs,” Clark said, explaining the two-year schools had roughly the same enrollment as the universities, but were receiving bond authorization of about one-fourth to one-third of the four-year institutions.

One issue that has not been covered is a proposal to provide Cooper Tire $20 million in state funding to help with a $140 million expansion being considered at its Tupelo plant.

Reeves said he met with Cooper officials and called the meeting productive.

The Cooper Tire proposal could be added to the Senate bond bill later in the legislative process.

Another project that has been pushed by some Northeast Mississippi legislators has been a museum in Tremont honoring country music legend and Itawamba County native Tammy Wynette.

That proposal also could be included in a final package.

“We have not forgotten her by a long shot,” Smith said.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com