As he wrapped up a recent presentation to
lawmakers, Mississippi Treasurer Tate Reeves implored them to
practice more restraint in approving projects that would require
the state to borrow money.
Reeves explained that repaying the state's mounting debt takes
money away from public education, corrections, Medicaid and other
services. More than $400 million in state funding is going to repay
debt this year, he said.
Over the next few months, lawmakers will be asked to approve
appropriations or bond bills for construction projects at the
universities and other state agencies. The state College Board is
asking for $130 million for needs on campuses.
The projects range from $1 million for fire suppression systems
at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus to $10.5 million
for the first phase of renovation at the only science building on
the campus of Delta State University.
Signing off on high-priced bond bills might not be easy for
lawmakers this session as slow revenue growth is predicted for the
rest of this fiscal year and the next. The current fiscal year ends
June 30 and the new one starts July 1.
"We're going to look closely at every bond bill introduced,"
said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl.
"You're probably going to see the largest decrease in bonding this
year than we've seen in several years."
Bond bills go through the Finance Committee in the Senate, and
the Ways and Means Committee in the House.
Ways and Means Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, said
lawmakers always begin the session "very conservatively."
"We cannot say at this particular point what bonds we will
consider, but we will look at those that are needed and respond
appropriately," Watson said.
For years, the Legislature has approved proposals to take on
long-term debt to pay for construction and renovations on state
property. The state issues bonds to pay for the projects, then
repays the debt - with interest - over decades.
Lawmakers also have approved bond projects related to economic
development, which Reeves said is a priority because "the
long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs." Those projects
involve incentives for companies to relocate to Mississippi. Bonds
typically are authorized to build new roads and put in
infrastructure, Reeves said.
The $323.9 million incentive package lawmakers approved for the
Toyota plant in Blue Springs is one of the most recently approved
for economic development.
Harry Sims, who oversees real estate and facilities for the
state College Board, is hopeful lawmakers will consider some of the
He said the Delta State science building renovation would
upgrade mechanical systems and equipment at Caylor-White Walters
"We're sort of sitting on pins and needles hoping the
mechanical system doesn't fail on us until we get that system in
place," Sims said.
"It's critical we keep that facility in operation. Delta State
has a very good science program, which actually feeds a good many
of those science majors to the University Medical Center," Sims
Reeves said bonding authorizations had been on the decline in
recent years, despite a spike in 2007, when several economic
development projects were approved. It also was an election year.
In the current fiscal year, repayment of state debt accounts for
6.6 percent of the overall budget. That compares to 9.4 percent in
fiscal year 2006.
"It's a trend we need to push for in the future, but to do so
we cannot continue to see huge amounts of authorizations coming out
of the Legislature," Reeves said.