House leader says state bonds iffy this year

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The House Ways and Means Committee chairman hinted Monday that it might be difficult to reach an agreement on bond bills during the 2012 legislative session.
Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, told House members that based on conversations he has had with the Senate leadership, there might not be any bond bills this session.
Smith said it is his hope to pass legislation authorizing about $268 million in bonds, which represents the amount the state will pay off during the upcoming year. That would mean the state would not be paying any more in interest on bonded indebtedness.
“Last year we paid off a little more than $310 million,” Smith said. “This year we are retiring $268 million. This year we are trying to see if we can have a washout.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who served the past eight years as treasurer, has expressed concerns about the state’s bond debt. Reeves, who presides over the Senate, said earlier this year his legislative agenda included “shrinking the state’s credit card by issuing less debt.”
No bonds issued this session could be a jolt to the state’s 15 community colleges and eight universities. Those schools, as well as state officials, have depended on bonds in recent years to pay for routine repair and renovations on state-owned buildings.
Smith discussed whether the Legislature would authorize any bond bills this year as he passed legislation in the House chamber Monday to re-direct $600,000 in funds from the bonds issued during the 2011 legislative session. The bond funds were dedicated for various projects at Mississippi State University.
Senate Finance Chair Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, was unavailable Monday to comment on whether the Senate would agree to pass any bonds this session.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com