JEFFERSON CITY -- Leading University of Missouri system officials testified in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday afternoon, encouraging senators to approve a $190.4 million bond issue for buildings.
The UM leaders are angling for parts of a bond that would fund various life-science related construction projects.
UM system President Elson Floyd, UMKC Chancellor Martha Gilliland, UMSL Chancellor Thomas George and UMR Chancellor Gary Thomas all testified at the hearing, as did bill sponsor Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau.
The campus representatives took turns praising the role of life sciences in Missouri's economic future -- and then defending their place as primary providers of research services for the state.
"It is clear that the life sciences represent Missouri's opportunity to build the industry and workforce necessary to compete in the new knowledge-based economy," Floyd said in prepared remarks to the committee. "Additional support from the state is required to support an aggressive life-sciences program here."
On the MU campus, $75 million of the bond would be dedicated to a life-science research center. In Kansas City, another research center would recieve funds. In Rolla and St. Louis, two aging research facilities would be modernized.
The projects themselves did not recieve much criticism from the Senate panel. But the process by which the money would be issued did irk some members.
Sen. Wayne Goode, D-Normandy, said he was concerned that the money was not being handled in a proper procedural manner.
"I think the projects may well be justified," he said. "But the procedure must be done correctly. We're inviting groups to do this again next year, and that's not the way we should be spending taxpayer money."
The committee heard another funding bill that would require an additional $100 million in bonds, raising the overall total to $290.4 million.
That option, presented by Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, would give the UM system its $190.4 million and the rest of the state's universities another $100 million to create life science projects.
"I think there's a feeling that life science research can't take place unless it's within 10 miles of I-70," said Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, referring to the UM system's locations in Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia. "But I know that's not the case."
So-called "regional" institutions like Southwest Missouri State University would be able to recieve state money under this plan, though the Coordinating Board of Higher Education would still retain control over prioritizing funding for each project.
SMSU was the source of a major controversy earlier in the session when a bill was introduced to change its name to Missouri State University.
The Senate Appropriations Committee chairman said he expected his committee would vote on the measures Wednesday of next week.
The $190.4 million bond was originally introduced as a compromise to end a filibuster by Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, to block the SMSU name-change bill.
Although the name-change was defeated in the House, if the bond is passed by the Senate, it could be brought up again.