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Missouri House to consider bonding proposal

Chris Blank, Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri legislators should consider bonding to help pay for improvements to the state's college campuses, mental health institutions, office buildings and transportation, House Speaker Tim Jones said Wednesday.

Jones, R-Eureka, said timing for a bond package makes sense given low construction and borrowing costs. In addition, the state made its final payment several months ago on the Third State Building Fund, which means millions of dollars previously directed to old debt payments now could be available.

The state's infrastructure needs are significant, he said, and bond-funded construction could create jobs.

"We can actually put people to work almost immediately," he said.

A new House committee has been created to evaluate bond proposals and work out details for a plan. Democratic Rep. Chris Kelly, the chairman of the committee, said during a news conference with Jones that a bond plan might be the "biggest jobs program perhaps in the history of the state of Missouri."

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer previously filed a proposal that would allow the issuance of up to $950 million in bonds. Kelly said the same version would be filed in the House, but that what ultimately moves forward would emerge from work by committees.

The House panel also plans to consider options for transportation funding. A recent task force estimated that Missouri needs an additional $600 million to $1 billion annually to pay for improvements to the state's transportation system.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Dan Mehan endorsed bond packages, saying it could help "jump-start the economy" and have an effect for decades.

Amy Blouin, the executive director of the Missouri Budget Project, said the state should approve additional revenue sources if it approves a bond package to help pay off that debt. The Missouri Budget Project analyzes financial issues with an emphasis on their effect on the poor.

"Because of the fragility of the state's revenue, new bonding should only be considered if lawmakers approve additional revenue collections simultaneously," Blouin said.

Voters during a June 1982 special election approved a plan to issue $600 million in bonds for improvements to state buildings, parks and economic development projects such as water and sewer systems, highways and rail lines. Bonds were issued over five years and repaid over 25 years with the total bill coming to $1.25 billion, including interest payments.

Lawmakers considered a $700 million bonding plan in 2009 for higher education institutions. The measure passed the House but was expanded and eventually abandoned in the Senate.