Legislators disagree on bonds

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – House and Senate leaders were unable to agree on a compromise to approve bonds to fund a litany of projects, ranging from work on university and community college campuses to fire truck acquisitions for rural departments.
The deadline for an agreement to be reached on a bond proposal was late Saturday.
While the issue appears dead for the 2012 session, House Ways and Means Chair Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said Gov. Phil Bryant told him he intended to call a special session to take up bonds.
When asked about the possibility of a special session, Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said, “It is too early to say whether the governor will call a special session.”
Smith said during the final hours the negotiations were between the chamber’s two presiding officers, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both Republicans.
Reeves said the plan he offered would have funded vital projects while allowing him to keep his campaign promise from last year’s election.
“I made a commitment to the voters we are going to pay down our state debt,” Reeves said Sunday night after the Legislature completed work for the weekend. “In this tough economic downturn, it is not right to burden taxpayers with significant debt.”
Smith said House leaders offered a pared-down package totaling about $250 million – about $30 million less than the package that passed the House and Senate earlier in the session.
Smith said a package of that size would have been less than the bond debt that will be retired this year, though, Reeves, the former state treasurer, said that might not necessarily be true.
Bonds are issued by the state and paid off over a period of time, normally 20 years, generally to fund long-term construction projects. But for a long period of time, various repair and renovation projects have been paid for by the sale of bonds, as have rural county bridge improvements and rural fire truck acquisition.
Reeves said he offered a package of $50 million in direct appropriations for various repair and renovation projects, especially at the universities and community colleges, and an additional $73 million for vital bond projects.
Smith said Reeves proposal was not enough. He said the $50 million in direct appropriations would be keyed only if state revenue growth exceeded expectations by a specified amount.
Possible projects in northeast Mississippi that were lost by the inability to agree included funds for a Wellspring Center for Professional Futures. which would have provided specialized instruction for high school students in the PUL Alliance counties of Pontotoc, Union and Lee, and funds for a Tammy Wynette Museum in Itawamba County.
While there was an inability to agree on a bond package, the vast bulk of the work was completed over the weekend on a $5.54-billion general fund budget. Some issues appear to be lingering on a budget for the Department of Public Safety, though, most anticipate them being resolved by today, which is the deadline for the Legislature to pass the state budget.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com