State bond agreement appears unlikely for now

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – A special legislative session to pass a bond bill for state construction and maintenance needs appears increasingly unlikely.
Despite speculation at the end of the 2012 regular session that a special session might be coming, various sources indicated Monday that no efforts are under way to reach a compromise on a bond proposal.
When the 2012 session ended in early May, House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said there was a good chance Gov. Phil Bryant would call the Legislature back in special session to deal with bonds.
Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, also expressed hope that a deal could be reached between the Senate and House positions on bonds and that a special session could be called to pass it.
But on Monday, in response to an inquiry, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, responded, “I have not been involved in any discussions on increasing the debt burden on taxpayers since the end of the session. In my campaign, I told voters that we would reduce their overall debt burden if they elected me, and I meant it when I said it.”
And Nathan Wells, chief of staff for Gunn, confirmed “there are no new developments at all” in terms of a compromise on a bond proposal.
Bonds are issued by the state and paid off over a period of years, normally 20, 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 bridge improvements and fire truck acquisition.
During the 2012 session, the House and Senate leadership could not agree on the size of a bond package. The House supported a larger proposal than the Senate leadership.
In an earlier interview, Hank Bounds, commissioner of higher education, said the inability of the Legislature to agree on a source of funds “for urgent repair and renovation projects” means that the universities must find other sources of money to deal with the construction issues. That, Bounds said, would put additional pressure on the state’s eight public universities that already lag behind their Southern counterparts by 15 percent in faculty salaries.
The bond proposal included funds for a School of Medicine construction at the University Medical Center to increase the class size for physicians.
It also included funds for the 15 community colleges and other building projects.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com