A Missouri House of Representatives proposal that would generate nearly $1 billion in bond-created funding entered its first round of committee hearings last week.
House Joint Resolution 14, sponsored by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, would allow the General Assembly to create up to $950 million in revenue from a bond issuance. The money would fund construction, rebuilding and renovation projects at state universities and colleges and on other state-owned buildings and properties.
The bill is virtually identical to a measure proposed in the Senate by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.
MU requested $68,419,000 from the proposal for a Lafferre Hall renovation project.
"The building has leaky roofs," said Ben Levin, legislative coordinator for the Missouri Students Association. "Parts are nice, but parts are falling apart."
Levin and MSA President Nick Droege attended the first hearings of HJR14 before the House Appropriations for Infrastructure and Job Creation Committee, chaired by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.
"After years of difficult and tight budgets, and after years of being through some very tough economically challenging times, many believe we still have several years ahead of us on this road," Jones said during the hearing last Wednesday. "Missouri's public infrastructure is in need of a great deal of repair and expansion. If a majority of us agree that that premise is true, then we need to start talking at this time about how we're going to provide solutions."
UM System President Tim Wolfe also testified before the committee.
"Economic development is part of the mission of the University of Missouri System," Wolfe said during the hearing. "it's something we're deeply invested in."
Lafferre Hall, home to the College of Engineering, is located between the Francis Quadrangle to the east and Sixth Street to the west. Built in 1892, the building has been expanded and added to 10 times since its construction, most recently in 2009.
"Very quickly, it would be cheaper to tear it all down, which no one wants," Levin said. "It's not now or never, but it's very close in terms of fixing the building."
The building houses a collection of undergraduate labs, classrooms and research labs.
"To stake a claim in tomorrow, we have to increase our area, specifically in STEM, with the need to double the production of STEM graduates in the areas of engineering, research chemistry and nuclear scientists," Wolfe said. "It's hard to prepare this work when the buildings they're taking classes in and the labs they're working in are crumbling around them."
Fourteen colleges and universities, including all four institutions in the UM System, requested funding from the proposed bond project. The University of Missouri-St. Louis asked for $60 million to renovate its Benton and Stadler Halls, University of Missouri-Kansas City requested more than $55 million to refurbish its School of Medicine and Health Sciences buildings and the Missouri University of Science and Technology requested just less than $28 million for a Chemistry and Biological Sciences building renovation.
Wolfe said this is the first major capital bond issue that will aid MU since the 1990s.
"Making major investments in capital throughout the UM System every 20 years is a dangerous place to be," Wolfe said. "I believe we can go in the right direction with your help but the time for the investment is now."
Despite only requesting $68 million from the proposal, the third-largest request, Levin said MU has a handful of donors willing to match parts of the bond revenue so the "real impact will be greater."
If approved by the House, HJR14 must be reconciled with its sister Senate bill, SJR3, and will ultimately make it on to a Missouri ballot.
Levin said MSA has met with both Jones and Kelly and will continue to have close contact with the two lawmakers during the legislative process.
"We've gotten a lot of support from Jones and Chris Kelly," Levin said. "MSA will be working with Jones so he realizes how this important this is."