Senate to eye Wellspring bonds

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Whether to provide state funds for the Wellspring Center for Professional Futures will be discussed in the Mississippi Senate in the coming days.
The state House already has approved providing $6 million to the proposed school at Blue Springs using the sale of bonds. But, the Wellspring project, which will be across from the Toyota manufacturing plant, is far from making it through the legislative gauntlet.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, has made it clear he wants to hold down the number of bonds approved by the Legislature in hopes of reducing the state’s bonded indebtedness.
But Senate Finance Chair Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, a Reeves appointee, said he does anticipate the Senate approving some bonds during the 2012 session.
Fillingane said he is familiar with the Wellspring Center for Professional Futures and said it is “one of the programs being considered” as part of any Senate bond package.
The education center concept was developed by business and education leaders from the PUL Alliance counties of Pontotoc, Union and Lee.
The center would attract students from all of the high schools in the PUL Alliance. The PUL Alliance was formed to work to develop the megasite that eventually lured Toyota to the area.
Toyota has pledged $50 million to the PUL Alliance school districts that can be used to operate the center. The facility is intended to provide training in high-tech fields where the labor market is expected to grow and to pay above-average wages.
It is expected the center would cost $37 million to construct. Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, has described the state bond funds as “seed money.” He said officials in Northeast Mississippi are looking for other sources of funds to help with construction.
In addition to the $6 million for the center, the House has approved bonds for community colleges ($29 million), universities ($104 million) and other state building projects, as well as to revitalize various programs that provide incentives to industries to locate or expand in the state. Some of those programs provide loans while others provide grants.
House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said the bonds passed by the House – totaling more than $250 million – should not increase the state’s debt since an equivalent number of bonds are being paid off.
Fillingane said he anticipates whatever the Senate passes and ultimately will agree to place into law will be a smaller number of bonds than what passed the House earlier this session and what has been signed into law in recent years.
He said the goal will be to ensure “the state’s credit card debt is being reduced.”
The state’s debt service for the current year is $369.6 million, or about 8.2 percent of the total general fund budget.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com