Roy Summerford


AUBURN -- Three Auburn University deans are closely watching developments in state government as they await action on a $52 million agricultural bond issue approved by Alabama voters last November.

Citing the loss of $100 million in the general fund budget due to an unfavorable court ruling on the statešs business franchise tax, the governor's office has placed a temporary hold on issuance of the bonds.

A major share of the funds would help finance construction of new facilities in AU's colleges of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine and School of Forestry. Other proceeds would go toward upgrading the state diagnostics lab across from Wire Road from the College of Veterinary Medicine and construction of agricultural facilities at Alabama A&M and Tuskegee universities.

Before selling new bonds, Gov. Don Siegelman has said the state must first find a way to replace the $100 million the general fund budget will lose next year. The loss of revenue is expected because of a Supreme Court ruling that Alabamašs franchise tax on out-of-state businesses is unconstitutional.

In an effort to find a replacement for the lost revenue, Siegelman has announced plans to call a special session of the Legislature in late summer or early fall.

But state Finance Director Henry Mabry has warned that the general fund may be unable to handle payments on the agriculture bonds even after the franchise tax problem is resolved. Mabry said funding availability may depend on a better-than- expected increase in tax revenues in coming months.

Buddy Mitchell, AU's executive director of governmental affairs, said he and other Auburn officials are trying to convince Siegelman to move ahead with sale of the bonds. Interest payments on the bond issue would be less than $5 million a year, he noted.

Buildings farthest along in planning, and thus most affected by a delay in funding, are a poultry science building in the College of Agriculture and a new large animal teaching hospital in the College of Veterinary Medicine. A new building for the School of Forestry also could be impacted if the funding delay extends into next year, said Forestry Dean Richard Brinker.

All the buildings depend on the state money to leverage private and federal funding that the university has either secured or is seeking.

Agriculture Dean Luther Waters said he is trying to make sure that $6 million in federal funds will still be available.

"The poultry science building is pretty far along," he said. "Funds from other sources might go away if these funds are delayed very long. We are doing our best to ensure that that does not happen."

The bond issue would provide $15 million for facilities improvements and construction in the College of Agriculture. Of that amount, $5.5 million would go toward construction of the $15 million poultry science building.

Other parts of the bond issue would go toward a beef teaching unit, a meats lab, a swine research center and Experiment Station units.

Forestry Dean Richard Brinker said the school is developing plans for its new building and looks to the state bond issue proceeds to generate more interest among potential donors. The School of Forestry is slated to receive $7 million from the bond issue and needs $8 million more to construct the building. Brinker noted that the school will receive $4 million from the federal government if suitable progress is made by Oct. 1, 2000.

College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Timothy Boosinger said the delay in getting $7.5 million from the bond issue has created uncertainty for planners of the $33 million teaching hospital.

But he said the college is going ahead with plans for the building's groundbreaking this fall. If funds are further delayed, the actual starting date for construction could be delayed well into next year, he added.

"I'm excited about the project, and it's just a matter of when," Boosinger said. "I'm disappointed to have delays, but on a more positive note, it will give us more time to complete the private fund raising."

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