Lawmakers say fewer bond projects to get the OK this session

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

campus projects.

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.