JEFFERSON CITY - A Columbia Democrat in the Republican-dominated Missouri legislature will be the leading force behind the one of the biggest financial projects in recent memory--a nearly $1 billion bond issue.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, is the chair of the Infrastructure and Job Creation Appropriations Committee that will work on the proposed $950 million bond issue. The current proposal for the bond issue deals primarily with funding state infrastructure.
It would create funding for a new engineering building at the University of Missouri, the medical school in Kansas City and for all of the community colleges across the state, Kelly said.
The bond issue is not in its final form yet, however. Kelly expressed concern that demands for Missouri's highways and bridges could conflict with the bond issue. Kelly also said it would be difficult to convince pro-education state lawmakers to promise revenue to pay back debt instead of giving it to education.
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said the bond issue was important enough for it's own committee and that it is bipartisan legislation.
"I have created a special committee to address the bonding issue," Jones said. "I think it's notable that I appointed a minority party member as the chair of that committee."
Kelly is working with Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, on the bond issue. Kelly said his minority party status will not hinder his negotiations with Republicans.
"I think that the challenges are more perceptual than real," Kelly said. "In the last legislature I was the chair of an appropriation committee, and everyone on that committee will tell you I behaved in a very bipartisan manner," Kelly said.
Kelly said his bipartisan efforts helped him during his last session as an appropriations chair, and that helps mitigate the fact that the Republicans dominate the Missouri House. They hold 109 of the 163 seats.
"I'm not here about the political parties," Kelly said."My check doesn't say Democratic. My check says state of Missouri," Kelly said.
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said Rep. Chris Kelly's bipartisan nature was the reason he was appointed to head the special committee in charge of the bond issue.
"Rep. Chris Kelly, who has proven himself time and time again in this chamber to be someone who truly wants to work in a bipartisan fashion," Jones said.
Kelly still has his work cut out for him on the bond issue. He has brought up similar bond issues for the last five years with no success. The $950 million would pass the previous high of $600 million that the state issued in 1982. A 2010 bond issue headed by Kelly and Schaefer failed to even pass the House.
Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said House and Senate leaders are backing the bond issue this time, and that some of the past opposition has left the legislature. Rowden said these factors have given this version of the bond issue its best chance of passing ever.
Kelly has sponsored a bond issue proposal every year since 2009. His first attempt, in 2009, cleared the House but died in the Senate.
Ironically, Jones was among those who voted against the idea that he now has endorsed.