Modified school, highway patrol funding bills move forward

James Carskadon
Staff Writer

Editor's Note: This story was updated to reflect the passage of House Bill 1597 and subsequent motion to reconsider.

Funding bills for two major construction projects in Starkville have moved forward in the House of Representatives, but the bills have been modified to fund an amount significantly lower than originally presented.
House Bill 1597, authored by members of the Oktibbeha County House delegation and Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, originally sought $10 million in bonds over two years to fund construction of a sixth and seventh grade partnership school on the Mississippi State University campus. However, when the bill was passed by the House Ways & Means Committee Wednesday, it only sought $1 million in funding.
The bill was passed by the house on Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 76-41, but a motion to reconsider was entered. That motion will be taken up on Thursday, according to District 43 Rep. Rob Roberson. The bill needs 71 votes to pass, according to the legislature website. Roberson said he is working to ensure support for the bill remains firm among House members.
House Bill 376, passed by the House on Tuesday, authorizes the issuance of up to $1 million in bonds for the new Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop G’s headquarters. Previous funding bills have sought $6 million in bonds for the station.
District 37 Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said the actual amount of bonds issued would be determined during negotiations over bond bills later in the 2016 session. Chism said House members have grown tired of criticism from Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves over spending requests, so all funding bills passed by the House will likely call for $1 million in bonds, regardless of the cost of the project.
“We’re just trying to avoid giving him more ammunition,” Chism said. “We’re sick of him acting like he’s the only adult in the room.”
The Senate has rejected funding for the new substation the last two years, but Chism said he is hopeful it will be passed this session.
“When it gets done, it will be an amount both sides have agreed on,” Chism said.
District 38 Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, said Wednesday that most other Highway Patrol headquarters have been updated, but Troop G continues to work in an outdated building that does not suit its needs. Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority has donated land for the substation in Cornerstone Park off of Highway 25.
“We have the land,” Ellis said. “All we need to do is build the station.”
Roberson said the partnership school bill passed by the Ways & Means Committee is more of a placeholder until the House and Senate can conference on the bill and negotiate the funding level.
The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District is seeking to fund the $30 million school with $10 million from the state, $10 million from MSU and $10 million from a local reverse referendum bond issue. A bill authored by Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, authorizing MSU and SOCSD to enter into an agreement to construct and operate the school passed the Senate on Feb. 25, but has not yet been taken up by the House.
The school would alleviate capacity issues at Armstrong Middle School and Starkville High School. It would also provide a demonstration site for students in MSU’s College of Education. The grades of the school were chosen intentionally so student teachers could spend classroom time that counts toward certification in either elementary (K-6) or secondary (7-12) education.
“We’re hoping and praying that will go through as well,” Ellis said. “We haven’t had any pushback there.”