Toyota roads in bond package

JACKSON – The House and Senate agreed to a $422.9 million bond package late Saturday night that allocates money for Toyota roads but leaves off a proposed school.
Money for a high-tech education center located near the Toyota manufacturing plant at Blue Springs was not included, but $40 million to four-lane state Highway 9 was approved. Plans are for the road to be widened from U.S. 78 near the Toyota site to the intersection of state Highway 348 north of the plant.
Senate Finance Chair Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said the hope is that the $40 million will be enough to finish the four-laning project that’s designed to make it more attractive for Toyota suppliers to locate in the Baldwyn area.
The state sells bonds to finance many long-term construction projects, including repair and renovation work on state agency and higher education buildings. Saturday night was the deadline to reach the preliminary agreement on the bond package, which includes $98.9 million for the eight public universities and $25 million for the 15 community colleges.
The original Senate proposal included $4 million for the Center for Professional Futures near Blue Springs, but Kirby said the project probably was not included in the final package because not enough was known about it.
He said sometimes good projects “take more than one year to pass.”
Toyota already has pledged $5 million annually for 10 years for education in Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties. Money from that pledge is slated for operating the Center for Professional Futures. The state funds would have helped with the estimated $35 million construction costs.
The center, for high school students in the three-county area, would provide high-tech instruction in various fields where the wages are normally considered above average.
Kirby’s counterpart, House Ways and Means Chair Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, said the school got caught up in the desire to hold the total bond package to a certain amount. The goal, both Watson and Kirby said, was to not approve a bond total, excluding economic development bonds that often pay for themselves, that was more than the amount the state is paying off this year.
“We did not add debt,” Kirby said.
The state will pay off $270 million in bonds this year. The amount issued on construction and repair and renovation projects is about $33,000 less than that amount.
Legislative leaders also kept alive a proposal to locate a civil rights museum and a museum of state history in Jackson, committing a total of $30 million to the two projects.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau