OUR OPINION: Legislature should give bond bill another chance

By NEMS Daily Journal

The death on deadline in the Legislature of a major bond bill to provide universities and community colleges with funding for their highest-priority renovations, upgrades and academic facility expansions, sends negative signals about the priority the state places on higher education.
House Bill 1631 originally would have authorized major upgrade funding for eight universities and 15 community colleges, but the measure was vastly weakened, largely because of opposition from Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
Reeves, whose cautions about bond debt are well known, has run into opposition from leaders in and outside the Legislature who see Mississippi’s bonded, long-term debt in a different light.
Even in the face of unanimous urging by the university and community college presidents, Reeves has drawn a line that in effect says it’s his way or no way. That’s not the right way to approach this issue.
Mississippi’s debt is managed, as many point out, because our state constitution does not allow deficit spending. The affordability issue is a matter for debate – not a single decision maker.
It has been suggested that Gov. Phil Bryant may give a bond bill a chance if he calls a special session, which could depend on how he sees the vote count on the bonds or other issues.
At least some university chiefs have met with Bryant, House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, and Reeves. Two of the meetings were encouraging, but apparently not the one with Reeves.
In the pared-down Senate substitute for the House bill, some $20 million in capital upgrade funds for the 15 community colleges died. Even those funds would have a multi-million dollar impact on this region’s two-year schools:
* East Mississippi – $1,275,170
* Itawamba – $1,675,093
* Northeast Mississippi – $1,100,800
* Northwest Mississippi – $1,659,481
The region’s universities lost even more even in the reduced, dead version on the Legislature’s website:
* Mississippi State University – $16.5 million
* University of Mississippi – $15 million
* Mississippi University for Women – $6.5 million
The original House bill was $376 million; a compromise was suggested at $250 million.
The universities and community colleges collectively occupy thousands of buildings and all their infrastructure. Huge sums are required to maintain them, and they’re not being provided sufficiently in regular appropriations. New facilities are needed for growing enrollments.
These bonds are for facilities whose repairs and expansions will become more costly if they are delayed. They need to pass.