The Wyoming House of Representatives is debating a bill dealing with state-funded capital construction, which could ultimately impact LCCC maintenance and construction projects.
“Essentially what the state is trying to do is we’ve got all this money sitting in the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund, this huge amount of money that we have invested wisely and built over time so that we can have sustainable earnings or yields off of it that help us fund government,” LCCC President Joe Schaffer said. “But at the same time, we are struggling to invest in some key infrastructural projects, buildings. Things like that because we don’t have the other revenue sources. So, can we leverage some of that money and do low-interest loans that helps Wyoming essentially build the infrastructure it needs and makes it appealing?”
Schaffer said that if HB 194 moves forward with its current entirety without any changes, it will positively impact the college for three different reasons.
Under the section concerning capital construction, Schaffer said the bill discusses the rate in which the state proposes to fund major maintenance projects, and it is calling to increase the multiplier. This means that there would be more money going toward community colleges to fund major maintenance projects. The Legislature appropriates these funds every two years to help with large maintenance and safety risk projects on campuses.
This bill also includes a $7 million funding option for LCCC’s Fine Arts renovation and expansion project. Schaffer said that since the college’s bond election failed last fall, this would give LCCC the opportunity to go back to the community or private donors and raise the other half for the $14 million project since LCCC would be able to acquire half the cost.
Another part of the bill that Schaffer said he would describe as both positive and interesting is the $30 million loan program for student dormitories.
“If you look at the criteria, the threshold for enrollments, the number of beds, the size of the community, it makes LCCC one if not the only community college that would qualify,” Schaffer said.
With this part written specifically for LCCC, Schaffer said that this was a way for LCCC to work with lawmakers to come up with an affordable loan to fund the construction of a new residence hall.
“We build a hall, students come and live in the residence hall, you pay room and board,” Schaffer said. “We take the revenue from the room and board to essentially pay the mortgage on the residence hall, like a house. The problem is the cost to build those things right now, because of the cost of construction, which means we would probably have to charge more than what students would be willing to pay to live in the hall.”
Schaffer said that with this in mind, other students could choose to go to a different community college where housing is cheaper. If LCCC could not fill the residence hall, the college would not be able to pay off the debt.
What this bill offers, according to Schaffer, is a low-interest-rate loan that would allow LCCC to access money to build the residence hall less expensively than if the college went through traditional financing procedures.
“It’s a new approach,” Schaffer said. “It may not even make it through the House just because it’s sort of unique, and there’s a big debate around it.”
Schaffer said that the Legislature is weighing the different outcomes between building a residence hall that would get more young people to get educated in Wyoming, or investing that money to get a higher rate of return that can be leveraged down the road to pay for government operations.
If the bill passes without anything being taken out or changed in a negative way, Schaffer said he would be ecstatic. However, he guesses that by the end, there will be parts of the bill taken out or altered.
“Honestly, with where we’re at this stage I’m very pleased that our legislative delegation and leadership has really gotten it this far,” Schaffer said. “They’ve done a lot of good work for the college, and so I’m pleased with where it’s at. But a lot can happen in these next couple of weeks down there and there’s certainly diverse opinions on how we should use our money and what we should be paying for.”