Letter to the Editor

Fiscally irresponsible action sets a dangerous precedent

Thursday, February 16, 2006

By Carl Bearden

After reading recent comments by Southeast Missouri State University president Ken Dobbins, it is clear the university's regents were asked to make a decision regarding the proposed River Campus without having all of the available information. I am deeply concerned that Dobbins failed to remember what I would consider a significant conversation. I am even more concerned that he did not pass the information from that conversation on to the regents.

As House Budget Committee chairman in 2003 and 2004, it was my legislation, House Bill 19, that included the $1,000 budgetary placeholder for continued development of the River Campus that is the center of controversy. As most Missourians are aware, state budgets in these years were developed during the worst economic conditions in 50 years. It would have been fiscally irresponsible to commit $17 million for a new facility when significant deficits were facing our state and to make any assurances as to when, if ever, the money would be available.

During discussions regarding this legislation with Dobbins in 2003, I provided a clear indication that the $1,000 placeholder was included in my legislation at the request of then-senator Peter Kinder. I indicated to Dobbins that this placeholder provided absolutely no guarantee that dollars would be made available for the project and that moving forward with any financing scheme, including the issuance of bonds, would be neither fiscally responsible nor prudent. My recollection of this conversation is so clear that I invite anyone to come to the state capitol so that I may take them to the exact location at which the conversation occurred.

The fact that Dobbins cannot recall this discussion is greatly disconcerting. It seems to me that a reasonable person would expect the president of a fine academic institution such as Southeast Missouri State University to remember a $17 million conversation. This memory loss prompted a fine academic institution to issue unsecured bonds for the development of a project that had no funding source. It was this decision that jeopardized students and potentially will increase their costs to attend Southeast.

Rewarding decision-makers who acted in a fiscally irresponsible and reckless manner without a solid plan to ensure against such actions in the future is not prudent and would set a dangerous precedent. No matter how worthy the project, this is an irresponsible approach to funding government facilities. If the River Campus is allowed to move forward without significantly addressing the fact such a grievous error was committed, the barn door will be open for all higher education institutions to follow suit.

Carl Bearden of St. Charles, Mo., represents the 16th District in the Missouri House of Representatives, where he is speaker pro tem.