State Lawmakers to borrow $291M for projects

By STEVE WILSON / NORTHSIDE SUN,

 

Despite a massive economic downturn associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mississippi Legislature passed its traditional annual bond bill that will add $291 million to the state’s indebtedness.

House Bill 1730, sponsored by state Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, is loaded up with capital projects for state agencies, community colleges and universities and some pet projects of legislators and was passed right before the session ended Wednesday night.

The bill has $86.725 million in borrowing for capital projects at state universities, $41.5 million in funding for capital projects involving state agencies and $35.9 million for projects at the state’s community colleges.

Among the projects funded by the bond bill include:

•         $18 million for a new bridge on the Interstate 20 frontage road and improvements at the Port of Vicksburg.

•         $4 million for improvements to State Highway 7 and University Avenue in Oxford.

•         $4 million for the Reunion Parkway in Madison.

•         $4.5 million to build the Marty Stuart Congress of Country Music.

•         $3 million for the Chickasaw Heritage Center in Tupelo.

•         $2 million for Itawamba County for economic improvements, railroad repairs, port repairs and jail site development.

•         $1.5 million for road improvements in D’Iberville.

•         $1.5 million to assist the city of Gautier with the purchase of the former Singing River Mall site for redevelopment.

•         $1.5 million for improvements to State Highway 4 between Interstate 55 and State Highway 7.

•         $1.2 million for levee improvements for Vicksburg.

•         $1 million to repair Columbus’ city hall building.

•         $1 million to restore the old Wesson School.

•         $1 million for the Russell C. Davis Planetarium in Jackson.

•         $1 million for the Pike County Gateway Industrial Park.

•         $600,000 for improvements to ballfields in Petal.

•         $500,000 for repairs to the Holmes County courthouse.

•         $500,000 for a recreation center in Centreville.

•         $500,000 to build a special needs camp for Mississippi children and adults in Copiah County.

•         $500,000 for improvements at the Wayne County Industrial Park.

•         $500,000 to repair and expand a visitor center on the Natchez Trace in Kosciusko.

•         $425,000 for repairs to the L.Q.C. Lamar Home in Oxford.

•         $400,000 to refurbish the Tate County courthouse.

•         $400,000 to repair the Humphreys County courthouse.

This year’s bond bill would provide $14 million for the Department of Public Safety to build and furnish a new headquarters building in Rankin County and a new highway patrol substation in Starkville. Funding for a new Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy facility in Pearl was omitted from the final version that passed both chambers.

Among some of the other projects for state agencies include:

• $13.5 million for repairs to the state capitol building, grounds and War Memorial Building, $5.1 million less than the original version of the bill.

• $2 million for improvements to the entrance to LeFleur’s Bluff State Park and infrastructure related to the two museums on the property, the Mississippi Children's and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. The previous version that passed the House had $1.4 million for this project.

• $1 million for upgrades and renovations to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

• $4 million for capital improvements at the state Department of Mental Health facilities or $3 million less than the version of the bill that passed the House.

• $3 million in improvements to dams and spillways at state parks for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

Out of the $25 million for community colleges, Hinds would receive the biggest appropriation, $3.9 million, for capital projects, with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College receiving $3.44 million.

Projects that will be funded at state universities include:

• $3.65 million for campus safety and security improvements and $2.635 million for a child development learning center at Alcorn State University.

• $3 million for campus building improvements at Delta State University.

• $5.26 million for improvements to buildings on the campus of Jackson State University.

• Mississippi State University would receive $10 million to build a new Kinesiology Department building and $8 million for the renovation two buildings at the agriculture, forestry and veterinary medicine division, or $3 million less than the original bill.

• The Mississippi University for Women would receive $13.435 million to construct a building to house its culinary arts program.

• $13.5 million for Mississippi Valley State University to expand its student union building and other facilities.

• The University of Mississippi would receive $5.32 million to repair, renovate and expand its data center building, an $8 million reduction from the bill’s previous version.

• The University of Mississippi Medical Center would receive $6.5 million to replace a boiler and related equipment.

• The University of Southern Mississippi would receive $6.5 million to repair and renovate its old kinesiology building, while its Gulf Coast campus would receive $700,000 for building improvements.

• $1.4 million to replace air handlers at the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Building and the JSU Universities Center.

The bill would also expand the state’s borrowing power for capital projects designed to keep military bases located in the state from being closed under Base Realignment and Closure. The maximum amount of bonds that can be issued for these projects would be increased from $74 million to $77 million. The last time the federal government closed or realigned military bases was 2005.

It would also create a “Mississippi Dam Safety Fund” with $1 million to fund improvements to dams statewide, a $2 million reduction over the version of the bill that passed the House.

As of last year’s comprehensive annual financial report, taxpayers owed $5.792 billion in bond debt. This year, lawmakers have appropriated more than $464 million to pay for service on the state’s debt.

The non-partisan budgetary interest group, Truth in Accounting, gave the state a D grade, ranking it 31st in terms of its fiscal health. According to the study, each Mississippi taxpayer’s share of the state’s debts add up to $10,000.

Last year’s bond bill added up to $371 million in debt.

 

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