April 26, 2009
JACKSON - The governor has approved a $282 million construction-finance bill that includes $1.5 million for Mississippi University for Women to install fire-suppression systems in student dormitories.
With the need to ensure students'' safety, money for this has long been listed by the state college board as the highest construction priority among Mississippi''s eight public universities.
House Bill 1722 has a total of $35 million for the universities -- including MUW''s $1.5 million and $8 million for Mississippi State University - and $12 million for the state''s 15 community colleges.
There''s also $20 million for bridge-construction projects throughout the state and $12 million to build a new state crime laboratory. They''re among the museums, zoos, fire trucks, state government buildings and other earmarks in the bill totaling $282 million.
Gov. Haley Barbour signed it into law April 17. Passed by the House and Senate last month, it authorizes the state to borrow money through bonds.
Barbour had earlier hinted he might veto such legislation. He''s been urging the Legislature not to borrow so much money through these debt-causing bonds except for industrial-development projects.
The $1.5 million approved for MUW will be combined with $500,000 set aside from a 2008 finance measure enacted by the Legislature, said university Vice President Nora Miller. More money is needed to install all the fire sprinklers required for campus buildings, she said.
"This will be done in phases -- since we plan to do this when the buildings are vacant over the summer -- at the rate of two or three buildings per summer," Miller said.
MUW is now seeking contractors to install the systems.
"We have a bid date of May 12 for the two residence halls that will be addressed this summer -- Goen and Kincannon halls," Miller said.
Barbour had asked lawmakers to be restrained in borrowing money for construction projects until more details are known about what Mississippi is getting from the federal economic stimulus package the U.S. Congress passed in February.
The Republican governor has expressed concerns about the debts caused by borrowing money through bonds. Mississippi''s current bond-debt load is about $3.4 billion, according to the state treasurer''s office. This is up from the $2.2 billion in 2000.
If all of the $282 million in bonds authorized by House Bill 1722 is issued, the state would have to repay its investors that amount plus an additional $164 million to $248 million spread over a 20-year period based on today''s interest rates, according to the state treasurer''s office.
Borrowing money for government construction projects is an expensive but effective way to finance large expenditures the state can''t afford to pay for at once, said House Ways and Means Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, the bill''s chief sponsor.
"Unfortunately, we can''t operate state government without debt," he said.
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