Leader Blues

Thursday, August 17, 2006

EDITORIALS>>College bonds: They're baack!

Gov. Huckabee signed a proclamation last Thursday putting $250 million of college construction debt on the ballot again, less than a year after its defeat at a special election.

The big bond issue will be on the general election ballot in November.

We think itís still an unwise deal, but maybe the governor and the university leaders have a fresh argument. They have not revealed it yet.

Let us vouchsafe our love for higher education. The state does not invest nearly enough in its colleges and universities, and we hold that opinion even after a decade in which taxpayers and philanthropists combined spent nearly $1.5 billion on capital improvements alone on the public campuses.

With an exception or two, notably the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the campuses have been transformed. But there are still a few needs, owing mainly to the sharply increased enrollment on a few campuses.

A bond issue nevertheless is not the prudent and efficient way to meet those needs.

Two months after the election, the legislature will assemble and decide what to do with a surplus of more than $700 million.
It will have to earmark a couple hundred million of it to public school construction, perhaps $25 million for prisons and legislators will want to divide some of it among themselves for local pork to help them get re-elected or elevated to higher office. The lawmakers will, wisely we think, set aside some for a rainy-day fund.

Still, the surplus will be large enough to fund every building project on the university and college campuses that has any practical need.

They could be funded and built immediately. No bond lawyers, no brokerages, no investors would have to have their palms crossed. It would require no tax increase.

Why would the state choose instead to pay for those buildings twice? That is what happens when you borrow all the money for the construction and pay for the buildings with compound interest from tax revenues over the next 20 years or 25 years. Maybe they will have an answer for us by November.