- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 26, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Lawmakers moved forward Wednesday with plans to borrow tens of millions of dollars to help fix leaky roofs, invest in economic development and repair worn equipment.

The Senate passed a bill that would allow the state to borrow a total of $95.9 million, including $63 million for the eight universities and $22 million for the 15 community and junior colleges.

That amount is likely to grow if lawmakers agree to money for a new medical school building at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. House lawmakers have passed a separate bill seeking $31 million to continue work on the building on UMMC’s Jackson campus.

The measure passed Wednesday includes $6 million to renovate the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center in Natchez, a former high school building that has a leaking roof and other problems. The Senate measure also allots $5 million in borrowing for economic development and infrastructure purposes.

The bill moves to the House for more work. Lawmakers are unlikely to reach agreement until the Legislature’s closing days.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said he expects lawmakers will agree to borrow about $200 million this year, about the same amount they agreed to last year.

“You’re not going to see a bill come back here that you’ll consider unreasonable,” Fillingane told senators.

Members of the Senate’s Conservative Coalition, which sometimes opposes the priorities of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and other members of the majority Republicans, questioned why it was necessary to borrow that much.

“Why would we not use some of that new revenue instead of putting another charge on the credit card?” Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, asked, noting the state’s improving financial picture.

“We’re doing some of that,” Fillingane explained, saying some capital needs would be satisfied through spending current revenue rather than borrowing.

Only Watson, Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, and Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, voted against the bill.


Online: Senate Bill 2975: https://bit.ly/1mCw9rT


Follow Jeff Amy at https://twitter.com/jeffamy

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