OUR OPINION: Bonds for higher education seem more likely in 2013

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Tuesday for a three-bill bond package that would fund new construction, repairs and renovations for community colleges, universities and the state’s historic sites and properties, but the Senate has not agreed and its fate is uncertain.
The package of bills – HR 845, 1617 and 1618 – would authorize $120 million for universities, $25 million for community colleges, $5 million for Archives and History, plus $3 million for a new community and junior colleges headquarters building that would use revenue bonds, not general obligation bonds issued against the state’s full faith and credit.
Earlier in the 2013 session, legislators approved a $31 million expansion of the University of Mississippi’s School of Medicine in Jackson in a separate bill. The medical school expansion was strongly backed by Gov. Phil Bryant, who made more doctors a major policy goal of his administration.
Support for the bond bill passed Tuesday in the House is not as certain in the Senate because Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides as Senate president, is intensely conservative about bond debt. No bonds were approved for the universities and colleges in 2012, a great disappointment in the Legislature and in the higher education community.
The largest of the bond measures passed Tuesday, for universities, would have provisions for additional bond-backed work in the next two fiscal years, with a total of $380 million possible but not required.
The House’s action almost certainly encourages presidents of the universities and community colleges, plus the archives and history administrative leadership because virtually none of the projects can move forward without substantial bond approval.
Legislators must authorize bonds, then a majority of the three-member Bond Commission must vote to issue them.
Reeves won a significant victory in his push against bond debt when the House passed a bill to spend $72.6 million out of cash reserves to replace roofs, replace county bridges, buy fire trucks for small fire departments and pay for state accounting software.
The bond bills passed in the House on Tuesday might be described as more substantial in scope. The total ultimately approved also may be less out of an abundance of caution even though bond interest rates are low, which makes long-term payout relatively more affordable.
At least some bonds are needed. Probability of some approval is better than full opposition.