The Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

Mississippi lawmakers this week approved borrowing $291 million for projects across the state, including more than $122 million for universities and community colleges.

The borrowing, during a lean budget year from the coronavirus pandemic economic slump, raises the state’s bond debt to about $4.2 billion, or about $1,400 for every citizen.

The annual “bond bill,” which is often referred to as a “Christmas tree” bill, typically has lawmakers jockeying for projects for their home districts. Senate Appropriations Chairman Briggs Hopson III, R-Vicksburg, noted that there were more than $700 million in requests this year, from the Senate alone.

House Ways and Means Chairman Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, said the state has paid off about $285 million in debt over the last budget year. In recent years, lawmakers have tried to keep the main bond bill near the range of debt being retired.

But Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, one of a small number of lawmakers who votes against the major borrowing bills, noted that the state’s debt has crept up.

“We have over the last 10 years increased our total bonded indebtedness by $1.47 billion,” Sojourner said. “Are we going to at some point reverse this trend?”

Some highlights of the state’s borrowing for projects for fiscal 2021 include:

• Universities: $86.7 million

• Community colleges: $35.6 million

• State agency projects: $41.5 million

• Chickasaw Heritage Center, Tupelo: $3 million

• LeFleur’s Bluff State Park, Jackson: $2 million

• Russell C. Davis Planetarium, Jackson: $1 million

• Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, Jackson: $1 million

• Marty Stuart Congress of Country Music, Philadelphia: $4.5 million

• Reunion Parkway project, Madison County: $5 million

• Mississippi Center for Innovation and Technology, Vicksburg: $3.9 million

• Wayne County Industrial Park: $500,000

• Robert E. Russell Sports Complex, Petal: $600,000

• Mississippi’s Toughest Kids Foundation, Camp Kamassa in Copiah County: $500,000

• Delta Blues Museum, Clarksdale: $200,000

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.