Southeast hopes for share of life sciences bonds

Thursday, March 4, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Southeast Missouri State University hopes to get a piece of the action from a proposed bond sale originally intended to promote life sciences research and education at the University of Missouri system.

As originally envisioned under a bill sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, the state would sell $190.4 million in bonds with the proceeds being used for six building projects at the University of Missouri's four campuses. The buildings would house medical, agricultural and engineering programs related to life sciences.

A competing proposal sponsored by state Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, would boost the bond sale amount to $290.4 million, with the additional $100 million being set aside for unspecified capital improvements at other public universities. Southeast would be eligible for a portion of that revenue.

Marvin Proffer, Southeast's lobbyist in the Capitol, said life science activities are part of the university's official mission as determined by the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, which oversees Missouri's public colleges.

"If they are going to issue bonds, we want to be a part of it," Proffer said.

Renovations and technological upgrades to laboratories and classrooms at Magill and Johnson halls, both built in the early 1940s, plus 20-year-old Rhodes Hall, could potentially be undertaken with the bonding revenue, Proffer said.

Three bills considered

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday considered both proposals, as well as a third bill that closely mirror's Kinder's measure.

Kinder acknowledged that his bill is a work in progress and could be modified to include projects for other institutions in addition to the University of Missouri's campuses in Columbia, Rolla, St. Louis and Kansas City.

Missouri must act quickly to establish itself as a hub for life sciences research or find itself at a competitive disadvantage with other states, he said.

"If we don't move ahead with some really strong initiatives, we are going to fall behind," Kinder said.

University of Missouri system president Dr. Elson Floyd said Kinder's bill would generate $1 billion in new investment from federal and private funds and another $1.6 billion in economic impact for the state through the creation of 33,650 new jobs over 10 years.

Under Champion's bill, projects for other universities would be vetted by the coordinating board to ensure they would further a legitimate life sciences purpose.

While Kinder's bill would rely on general appropriations to repay the principal and interest on the bonds, Champion's measure would set aside a portion of the state's proceeds from its financial settlement with tobacco producers for that purpose.

The bills are SB 1221, SB 1227 and SB 1305.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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