JEFFERSON CITY - Higher education officials from across the state came before a House panel Tuesday to voice their support for an almost $1 billion bond proposal and to ask for state funds for a growing list of campus building and renovation projects.
Last month, House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, announced the creation of a special committee that was established for the express purpose of dealing with the $950 million bond proposal.
University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe said the four-campus system has a $1.3 billion backlog of projects, such as renovating the engineering buildings at the system’s Columbia campus. Wolfe said the list of needed improvements for the four campuses would create 3,810 jobs as well as attract more funds from private donors who recognize the support of the state.
Representatives from other state colleges and universities echoed Wolfe’s remarks with their own lists of projects that have been put on hold due to a lack of state funds.
In addition to construction on college campuses, the bond would dedicate funds for state buildings and facilities and potentially transportation infrastructure.
Committee chairman Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he would prefer if the bond proposal was combined with a transportation funding measure that was introduced earlier on Tuesday. If approved by voters, that legislation would dedicate funding specifically for Missouri’s roads and transportation infrastructure through a one-cent increase of the state sales tax 10 years.
“I believe that ultimately we can only have one proposal and I hope we find a way to comfortably combine the highway proposal and the general revenue proposal, and I believe we can do that,” Kelly said. “I believe that’s probably the most efficient way of doing it.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, Jones said state lawmakers should take advantage of low interest rates and Missouri’s AAA credit rating to move on the bond issue and address the state’s growing infrastructure needs.
“I believe the needs are critical and some, you could argue, are reaching a crisis state,” Jones said.
Jones said he does not know if lawmakers will need more than one session to iron out the specifics of the bond issue, Kelly said he plans on moving it this year.
While no one spoke in opposition to the bond proposal at Tuesday’s hearing, Kelly acknowledged that the atmosphere may not remain friendly as the committee continues to work on the measure.
“Every single one of us will be disappointed, but every single one of us will be delighted,” Kelly said. “There’s no way that we can do everything that we need to do, but we can do some very good things and move our economy forward.”