Leaders: Bond deal expected

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – House and Senate leaders seemed confident Friday they would agree on a bond package this year to fund long-range construction projects.
“We are considerably closer,” said House Ways and Means Chair Jeff Smith, R-Columbus. “We have given the Senate all our projects, and the Senate has given us all of theirs except for maybe one.”
Earlier in the day, both Smith and his counterpart, Senate Finance Chair Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, were optimistic that a final agreement could be reached Friday. But late Friday, that seemed unlikely.
The legislative leadership has until 8 p.m. today to have agreements signed on revenue and bond bills and on appropriations bills to run the various state agencies.
On Friday, negotiators worked on all those issues.
Last year the Legislature did not pass a bond bill to fund projects at the universities, community colleges and on state buildings because House and Senate negotiators could not reach agreement. This year, both sides seemed confident that an agreement would be reached.
The universities and community colleges, particularly, depend on bond funds for many repair and renovations projects on their campuses.
Smith said the goal remains to keep the total bond package under $200 million. He said that the state would pay off around $240 million this year, meaning if the package of new bonds stayed at around $200 million, the state’s total debt would not increase.
The state is expected to spend about $375 million on its bond debt for the upcoming fiscal year. The total state general budget is about $5.6 billion.
Legislative leaders will continue to work toward an agreement today. And, if agreement is reached as both House and Senate negotiators seemed confident would happen, the House and Senate would convene late on Easter Sunday to vote on those agreements.
“We will finish on time tomorrow,” House Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said when asked when a final budget agreement would be reached.
Currently, among other things, the budget negotiators are trying to fund some of the education proposals that have passed this session, such as pre-kindergarten, enhanced focus on reading in the early grades and school safety officers.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com