- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi lawmakers would borrow $30 million to buy a railroad and give the first $8 million of a three-year pledge to Tupelo’s Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. plant under a plan to borrow about $230 million for numerous projects that faced further revisions Sunday by the House and Senate.

Saturday was the deadline for House and Senate lawmakers to agree on new bonds, but top lawmakers on Sunday sent House Bill 787 and Senate Bill 2975 back to a joint committee to rewrite them, meaning exact numbers for projects could change, as could other provisions of the legislation.

Once the bills are rewritten, the full House and Senate must still pass them and send them to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.

Plans call for $92.8 million for capital projects at the state’s eight public universities, including $30.5 million to continue building a new medical school building at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Also included is $23 million for projects at the state’s 15 community colleges. Those amounts have not been in much dispute, as lawmakers agreed in 2013 to give certain amounts to the universities and colleges over three years to give them greater predictability in starting certain projects.

One bill calls for giving Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. up to $20 million over three years. Officials hope the aid, plus $20 million in local property tax breaks, will entice Ohio-based Cooper to spend $140 million at its 1,600-employee Tupelo plant to modernize. The company hasn’t decided where it expects to spend the money and hasn’t pledged to increase jobs.

“Obviously Cooper Tire has been a longtime corporate partner in Tupelo,” Lt. Gov Tate Reeves, a Republican, said Saturday.

The North Central Mississippi Regional Railroad Authority would be loaned $30 million to buy a rail line from Southaven to Canton that the current owner wants to rip up and sell for scrap. Reeves said the state would take the railroad if the authority is unable to make the payments from leasing the railroad to an operator.

“It has protections in that bill for the taxpayer,” Reeves said.

The state would also contribute $8 million to build a new worker manufacturing training center at East Mississippi Community College in Mayhew. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said more money would be needed next year.

Some other notable projects include $3 million for a new auditorium at Oak Grove High School in Lamar County and $2.5 million for a Tammy Wynette museum in the Itawamba County town of Tremont.

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Online:

House Bill 787: http://bit.ly/1gOsYxv

Senate Bill 2975: http://bit.ly/1rUOu6W

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