By NEMS Daily Journal
The $422.9 million bond bill approved last week by the Legislature and supported by Gov. Barbour will provide badly needed money for universities, community colleges and state agencies to upgrade facilities and technology.
Some senators objected to the additional debt load created by the bond program, but big challenges require bold action.
The bond plan, which had bipartisan support, provides nearly $99 million for universities; $105.7 million for state agencies and $152.9 million for economic development. It also includes $20 million for bridge repairs and $5 million for railroad improvements.
“If we were not to do this, you would probably have in 12 months, buildings falling down on campuses. If you don’t make needed repairs, just like in our homes and our businesses, the buildings would fall down. This gets us the Nissans, the Toyotas. … This is our moneymaker,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, in an Associated Press story.
The bill passed 91-27 in the House and 36-10 in the Senate.
The fact is that if the agencies and institutions whose work sustains services, education and government operations depended on appropriations their needs would never be met, especially in the current revenue-constricted climate.
However, bond interest rates remain low, and Mississippi rolls bonded indebtedness off its books every year.
Some of the technology upgrades will bring agencies like the Bureau of Revenue from a virtual adding machine age into the best technology for high finance and state financial transactions.
Each of the eight universities gets money in the bond bill for key projects, and the money in some cases will complete or advance phased projects.
The community colleges, whose physical capacity has been stretched and exceeded in some cases by booming enrollments will get $25 million – certainly not enough to meet every need but in some degree helpful.
Universities in north Mississippi are among the major beneficiaries:
* Mississippi University for Women will receive $5.25 million for library renovations and expansion
* Mississippi State University is allocated $15.2 million for renovating and equipping Lee Hall and furnishing a new classroom building. Its Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine will receive $1 million for expansions.
* The University of Mississippi also will receive $15.2 million for renovations and repairs, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus in Jackson will receive $4.5 million to begin a new classroom building to meet growing enrollment needs.
* The University of Southern Mississippi, the third research university, will get $15.2 million mainly for its new school of business building, and it will get $1.5 million for its Gulf Coast campuses.
One of Northeast Mississippi’s economic development arteries is set for major improvement, with $130 million total approved this year and in 2010 for four-laning of Highway 9 from Pontotoc to north of Blue Springs, a project driven by Toyota’s Blue Springs plant, set for production in the fall of 2011. Planning and right-of-way purchases have started for the Pontotoc to Sherman segment of the new highway.
The practicality and affordability of bond issues, it should be remembered, drove the 1987 Highway Program, a $1.6 billion statewide effort for four-lane highways. It was the bellwether act by the Legislature signaling a new era of adequate highways statewide, and it continues in successor programs and projects.
Mississippi’s bond rating is generally AA, excellent and only a step below the few states holding the AAA rating.
The Legislature acted in our state’s long-term interests in passing this year’s omnibus bond bill.