Bond Issue Would Pay for Infrastructure

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JEFFERSON CITY - After nearly two months of work, a Columbia lawmaker presented a revised billion-plus-dollar bond issue Wednesday to a Missouri House committee.

Rep. Chris Kelly, the Columbia Democrat put in charge of the bond effort by Republican House Speaker Tim Jones, said the proposal now calls for $1.2 billion in bonds, up from $950 million when the idea was first presented in February. The money would go toward construction and renovation on projects across the state, ranging from community colleges and four-year universities to rural water projects and Fulton State Hospital. Kelly called this last project the single most important issue the bond is meant to address.

"What better time to do that than when the interest rates are as low as they are today and the contractors are as hungry as they are today?" Kelly said.

The proposal would allow the legislature to issue up to $1.2 billion in bonds if voters approve it. At least $500 million would go to projects other than higher education, although specific dollar amounts have not been set. This would leave at most $700 million for higher education-related projects, at least 15 percent of which would be set aside for community college use. Kelly said the House Budget Committee would consider a capital improvements bill each year to deal with specific projects. The current proposal has two other significant changes from February's bond proposal. The new version creates a five-member commission to evaluate how the bond revenue is used. It also allows the bond money to be used to reduce buildings' energy consumption.

During Wednesday's hearing, Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles, said he did not think it was a good idea to "raise the state's debt ceiling" to pay for infrastructure projects. He said it would be hypocritical for the state to repeatedly criticize federal borrowing and then do the same thing.

"In my opinion, all this does is ask Missouri citizens to accrue more debt to pay for projects that we want today," Parkinson told KOMU 8 News.

The House Budget Committee did not vote on the proposal Wedneday as it had planned to. Vice Chairman Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, told KOMU 8 News this was done out of respect for Budget Chair Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, who had to leave Tuesday afternoon due to a family illness.

If the bond issue passes both houses, it would go on the ballot for a popular vote. Kelly said he would push to get the issue on the November 2013 ballot to avoid conflicting with a proposed sales tax meant to address transportation infrastructure. That measure is also slated for a popular vote, most likely in November 2014.