March 28, 2009
JACKSON -- The House and Senate gave final approval Thursday to a $282 million construction-finance bill that includes borrowing $1.5 million for Mississippi University for Women, but it doesn''t earmark $1.2 million to renovate the Columbus City Hall like the House wanted.
However, legislators who wrote the bill said Columbus could get $250,000 from a fund set up in the bill for municipalities.
House Bill 1722 -- a compromise version between the House and Senate -- now goes to Gov. Haley Barbour, who''s urged the Legislature to restrain itself from approving too many debt-causing construction projects. The state borrows money through bonds to pay for government construction projects.
House Democratic Leader Tyrone Ellis, of Starkville, said House-Senate negotiators decided the state couldn''t afford the $1.2 million the House had earlier put into the bill for Columbus City Hall. However, the city can apply for $250,000 put into a $5 million building fund set up in the bill for municipalities, said Ellis, one of the bill''s negotiators.
Not used as much as before the Columbus Municipal Complex was constructed a decade ago, the 106-year-old City Hall needs to be renovated. Columbus Mayor Robert Smith had asked lawmakers to provide money for it. The Main Street structure houses the offices of the mayor and municipa l clerk. The Columbus City Council meets at the newer municipal complex down the street.
The construction bill does have $35 million for universities -- including the $1.5 million for MUW and $8 million for Mississippi State University -- and $12 million for community colleges.
MUW''s top campus-upgrade priority is to install fire-suppression systems in two buildings, several campus apartments and the president''s home.
There''s also $20 million for local bridge-construction projects throughout the state and $12 million to build a new state crime laboratory. They''re among the various earmarks for museums, zoos, fire trucks and state government office buildings.
With the House and Senate''s final approval Thursday, the bill now goes to Barbour for him to approve or veto. He has urged lawmakers not to borrow more money through bonds until they know more details about how much money Mississippi will get from the federal economic stimulus package President Obama signed into law last month. The governor has also said funds should be focused more on building accommodations for new industries rather than state government facilities.
Barbour and other Republicans have 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.
The bonds authorized by House Bill 1722 would create about $20 million a year in new debt, according to an estimate provided to the Senate.
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