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Mississippi public universities seek to continue multiyear bonding agreement with Legislature

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JACKSON, Mississippi — After three years of predictability on bond funding, officials at Mississippi's eight public universities are hoping for a new multiyear agreement with lawmakers on the level of funding they can expect.

The College Board voted Thursday to forward university requests for bond money to the Legislature, which newly-elected lawmakers will consider next year as they budget and plan borrowing for the 2017 budget year.

After lawmakers failed to pass a bond bill in 2012, they made a three-year agreement with College Board leaders, promising to borrow a set amount of money each year for universities. In discussions Wednesday before the board's Real Estate Committee, leaders emphasized what an advantage that had been over year-to-year unpredictability.

Some schools, especially the smaller ones, would wait multiple years until they started construction on large projects before the agreement, said Assistant Commissioner for Facilities Harry Sims.

"We just didn't know what we would get or when we would get it," Sims said Wednesday.

That changed after 2012, said Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum.

"They did lay in a three-year plan and they stuck to that plan," Keenum said. "There was some sense of fairness and parity among the leadership to try to equalize what was given."

Over those three years, MSU, the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi each got $30 million. Jackson State University got $20 million, while Alcorn State University, Delta State University, the Mississippi University for Women and Mississippi Valley State University each got $16.5 million.

Some black lawmakers have criticized the level of investment at Valley and Alcorn, saying the schools have critical needs like decaying dormitories at Valley and a lack of faculty housing at rural, isolated Alcorn.

A list of top five priorities for each university, which the board is sending to lawmakers, totals $551 million. College Board President Alan Perry said universities don't expect to receive that much.

"We're basically making recommendations as to how the money should be spent," Sims said. "This list of projects lets them know what we consider to be the critical list of projects on our campuses."

Sims said that while lawmakers sometimes include other projects, he believes the list influences what gets included.

The board formerly made one unified list of priorities for all the universities, but stopped doing that several years ago.

"All the universities will get some bond money if there's bond money given out," Sims said. "Our concern is that the money goes to the No. 1 most critical project on their campus."


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