A proposed constitutional amendment has been filed in the Senate that would ask voters to approve almost $1 billion in bonds to use on the state’s infrastructure.
Its sponsor, Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) says now could be a better time to issue new bonds than will come for generations.
“Interest rates are so much lower now that basically for the same cost of what it cost us to borrow $600 million dollars back in the early (1980s) we could borrow $1 billion now with basically the same payoff cost because interest rates are simply so much lower, and who knows how much longer that will continue?”
Missouri has just finished paying off the bonds Schaefer refers to, approved by a majority 51 percent of Missouri voters in June, 1982 that paid for improvements to state buildings, parks and various projects like water and sewer systems, highways, rail lines and soil erosion projects.
What would the bonds pay for?
Schaefer says if approved, this bond proposal would take a similar timeframe, 25 to 30 years to pay off. As for what projects it would target, he says he has intentionally worded the bill broadly so that lawmakers can sort that out during debate.
Representative Chris Kelly (R-Columbia) will handle the bonding bill in the House. He says one likely use for bonds would be on top priority projects at each of the state’s colleges and universities.
“In many of the community colleges that’s health-related projects: training nurses, training various types of medical technicians. At the University of Missouri it’s the engineering school. At (the University of Missouri St. Louis) I think it’s the nursing school.”
Schaefer says the Fulton State Hospital needs some serious attention, for multiple reasons.
“Handling and treatment of people that are there, safety of the workers that are there … on a number of levels it really is an antiquated facility and there’s a good question of whether or not you can even modify that facility in such a way that addresses those things … or you look at a new facility.”
Also high on the list is the State Capitol Building in Jefferson City.
Kelly says, “The Capitol Building is literally a national treasure and it’s 100 years old. It’s very important that we do work to refurbish the state Capitol also.”
Schaefer adds, “At the Capitol it’s not just cosmetic, it’s structural. We’ve been putting some of those things off now for … in some of those issues, a couple decades … and if you don’t address some of those structural issues you’re going to get to a point where it may even be cost-prohibitive to do some of those repairs down the road.”
The transportation question
A question hanging over the bonding issue at this stage is how transportation might be handled. Kelly wants highways included, but says it might have to go in a separate measure.
“I think most people agree that we have the work in both the regular state capital plant and in the highway stuff. The question is, ‘Can we and should we marry them?’”
Senator Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City) is the vice-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He says transportation funding should be in a separate measure because the amount of money it requires would leave little out of a $1 billion bond issue for anything else.
“Proper funding of our highway department takes somewhere right now of $600 million to $700 million additional dollars a year than what we have.
Governor’s office declines comment
Schaefer says launching bond-supported projects now would also create needed jobs.
“I don’t know that that’s the absolute motivating factor, but certainly when you’re talking about doing a lot of capital improvement and construction it is going to employ a lot of people and there’s probably not a better time to be putting people back to work than right now with the economy the way it is.”
Governor Jay Nixon’s office has declined to issue a formal statement on the possibility of a bond proposal, but Kelly says the jobs aspect should be appealing to Nixon.
“I’m surprised that he’s not more aggressive on this because he talks about jobs and this is far and away the biggest jobs project in the state.”
Kelly says with Republican backing in both the House and the Senate the legislature can pass the measure without Nixon’s support, but he hopes Nixon will be involved.
“I hope he comes on board and I hope he’s helpful.”
See Schaefer’s proposal, SJR 3.