By Kristen Miller
Eastern may soon find it easier to give campus a facelift.House Bill 177, better known as the university bonding bill, is on the legislative table and would allow universities to use their own funds for construction projects. The bill has already passed in the House.
The law states that any university project, such as a dorm renovation, must be approved by the General Assembly.
Consequently, the assembly issues revenue bonds needed to complete such projects.
These bonds are agreements issued by a government to a state-funded agency, promising that the project will pay for itself over time or produce revenue, said President Doug Whitlock.
For instance, Whitlock said the state issues bonds for residence halls, and the students pay for the halls over time through housing fees.
The bill does not apply to projects that require the state to provide funding.
Rep. Robert Damron, D-Nicholasville, the creator of the bill, said it will “unhinge” universities from needing state approval to use the money.
If the bill passes, universities will no longer be required to secure the General Assembly’s approval to fund such avenues.
Instead, they will be able to issue the bonds themselves if they have the money for a project.
The state legislature will still review the universities’ plans and ensure the money is used for what Damron calls a “worthy cause.”
Universities will have to indicate where funding will come from and legislators will make sure the university will be able to pay off the project, he said.
But most importantly, the universities won’t be in competition with other state projects that might take precedent over their construction needs, Damron said.
Damron said he has been trying to get the legislation passed for three or four years and added it’s time to put it into action.
“We need to join the 21st century and allow the university to do their own thing,” he said.
Whitlock said the bill would be positive for the school.
“It’s certainly something I support. It would give us the authority to issue bonds,” he said. “It would enable us to do things in a more timely fashion.”
James Street, director of capital planning and facilities management, said it would give Eastern more flexibility and freedom to go ahead with projects that need to be done.
“It’s a very positive issue,” Damron said. He said that many universities have been talking about the bill over the years, but it did not receive approval from the previous governor.
Former Gov. Fletcher opposed House Bill 177, but Gov. Beshear supports it.
However, there are still miles to go before anything can happen with the bill, Damron said.
Now that the bill has passed in the House, it will go to the Senate for approval.
If it passes in the Senate, the governor will review the bill and choose whether or not to pass it, he said.
Damron said there wouldn’t be a definite answer until April 15.
“We still have a long way to go,” he said.