Senate endorses $372 million bond sale

Thursday, April 29, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The state would sell $372.5 million in bonds to pay for construction and renovation projects at public colleges and universities under a bill given first-round approval by voice vote in the Senate Wednesday.

Companion legislation specifying the projects the bond revenue would fund remains pending in the Senate. That bill would earmark $17.5 million to Southeast Missouri State University for the renovation of Johnson, Magill and Rhodes halls, which house the school's mathematics, science and agriculture programs. Southeast would have to privately raise nearly $5.9 million -- 25 percent of the projects' overall costs -- to receive the bond revenue.

A second vote is required to send the bond authorization measure, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, to the House of Representatives.

The bill would pay for specific projects at 13 other higher education institutions in addition to Southeast. It also would set aside $22.5 million, which Missouri's community colleges could tap for future construction projects.

Kinder's bill originally envisioned using the bond money to improve facilities for the study of life sciences, but many of the proposed projects have scant connection to that topic.

State Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, questioned the wisdom of adding to the state's debt to build more buildings at college campuses.

"I think we ought to spend this money building roads," Bartle said.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, added an amendment that would temporarily repeal a state tax deduction corporations are allowed to take against their federal tax liability in order to raise $50 million a year to retire the bonds. Jacob's proposal would ease the blow to those companies by awarding a $10,000 tax credit for each recent graduate of a state college they hire.

"I want them to consider this an investment in our people and our higher education institutions," Jacob said.

The amendment was attached when few senators were in the chamber and paying attention. Kinder indicated he will attempt to remove it later in the process. Kinder's plan is to allocate a portion of Missouri's financial settlement with tobacco producers for debt service.

The bill makes issuance of the bonds contingent on the passage of legislation dropping the regional designation on the name of Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield. Jacob's attempt to remove the provision was voted down 26-8.

Kinder and Jacob accused one another of breaking an accord in which Jacob agreed to stand down on his fierce opposition to the name change if the bonding bill were passed.

The bond bill is SB 1221.

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