Lawmakers reduce bonds for Miss. universities

The University of Southern Mississippi will receive insufficient funding for its proposed capital projects in 2016 following Mississippi lawmakers’ decision to decrease budget allowances for the state’s public universities.

All public universities in Mississippi nominated their top 10 capital projects yearly and each are allocated money in order to afford these projects. However, the College Board reached an agreement with lawmakers in 2013 to create a more tangible roadmap for university borrowing over the next three years.

Mississippi lawmakers did not approve any additional university borrowing in 2012, creating difficulties for universities planning capital projects requiring continued funding over multiple years. In 2013, after the creation of the budget roadmap, lawmakers allowed universities to begin large projects, assuring continued sufficient funding for the timely completion of nominated capital projects.

While  the 2014 and 2015 university budgets allow for $96.5 million and $93.8 million in bonds, respectively, the 2016 budget allows a highly reduced $68.2 million. The change in budget has largely resulted from a lack of allocated funding for medical schools, but it affects all public universities in Mississippi, including USM.

Universities have received direct legislative funding for general maintenance and renovation, being given $13.2 million in 2014 and $17 million for the upcoming budget year, but reduced bond borrowing still means that many public universities in Mississippi will be unable to complete all of their nominated top 10 projects in 2016.

USM’s top two projects are general repairs and renovations, as well as a renovation of Bolton Hall. It is estimated that these projects will cost $9 million. However, 2016 budget projections leave the university with an insufficient $5 million in bond allocations.

“The reduction of capital bonds may impact our pace but will not change our goals,” said Douglas Vinzant, vice president for finance and administration.

Southern Miss’ capital bonds allocated for 2014 and 2015 will still go toward many projects on campus, such as renovations of Joseph Greene Hall and a section of the Bobby Chain Technology Center.

Plans are also in place to move forward with the renovation of Bolton Hall to support mathematics, military sciences and aerospace studies. Southern Hall will be vacated following these renovations, but will also be renovated in order to function as a single location for all essential student services.

Unfortunately, 2016’s highly reduced capital bond budget still looms. 

“Though planning and programming work is getting underway this fall for the renovation of Greene Hall, Bolton Hall and Southern Hall, no construction contracts could be executed without the additional funding provided from the bonding bill,” Vinzant said. 

Planned projects on campus are still in danger of incompletion, and without requested funding, they cannot be completed even in an expanded time frame.