Discussions near the end of the legislative session about negotiations – or at least conversations – among key Capitol players about the need to issue additional state-backed bonds for capital improvements at the universities, new bridges, and fire trucks for rural volunteer fire departments have been notable by their absence.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and a spokesman for House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, confirmed this week there are no new developments to report.
Reeves repeated his opposition to increasing state debt and a campaign promise to decrease the overall debt burden.
There is no indication – as had been hoped – that Gov. Phil Bryant is considering calling a special legislative session to deal with a bond issue that would be used by the universities for repair, renovation and other campus infrastructure.
The House passed a bond bill during the session, but efforts to come to terms with the Senate collapsed in the face of Reeves’ opposition.
Presidents of the eight universities worked together as the end of the 2012 session neared in efforts to persuade legislators, Gunn, Reeves and Bryant to agree on a compromise figure, but their persuasion did not work.
During the session, the House passed a $250 million bond bill that included funds for projects other than university priorities – a bill similar in content to many others that have passed in many previous legislative sessions.
Mississippi’s bonded debt is $4.14 billion, and is scheduled to decline $284 million in this budget year. The House presented the Senate with the proposed $250 million bond package, but it stopped without any conference committee meetings.
Reeves argued that a smaller Senate bill would have given the universities $58 million, about 60 percent of what they wanted, and it proposed $15 million for the community colleges, slightly less than the average allocation during the past four years. The House would have provided $104 million for a four-year universities’ bond program.
Reeves has said the Senate also proposed $7 million in cash and $13 million in bonds for the local bridge rehabilitation program.
Mississippi’s supervisors, who have a political and administrative stake in bridge bonds, have been largely silent. The lack of audible conversation and visible meetings does not necessarily mean none are taking place.
Denying funds for proven needs merely postpones inevitable expenditures, probably driving their costs higher, and in the case of education, placing Mississippi’s universities at risk of falling further behind peer institutions in other states in facilities, which can ultimately impact academic quality. It’s time to start talking.