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UH wants money to build

The public university requests $100 million in construction bonds from the Legislature

By Craig Gima

LAST UPDATED: 8:54 a.m. HST, Nov 26, 2010

The University of Hawaii is asking the Legislature for the authority to issue an additional $100 million in construction bonds to be repaid with UH funds, including student tuition.

In these tight budget times, the university has issued about $500 million in bonds since 2007 to help finance construction projects, including the Frear Hall dorm and student housing improvements, the UH-West Oahu campus in Kapolei and the new Cancer Research Center.

The use of university money to pay for construction also raises questions about how much students should pay for the cost of a public higher education and how much of the burden should be borne by taxpayers, who benefit from the research conducted at the university and from keeping college affordable for students and their families.

The request also comes as the university is determining how much to raise tuition over the next several years to cover its expenses.

"We've been very careful about what we accept as projects (financed by UH bonds) to make sure the campuses have the ability to repay debt service," said Howard Todo, University of Hawaii chief financial officer.

UH has not decided how it will spend most of the $100 million, if it is approved by the Legislature, Todo said. However, in its two-year capital improvements request, the Board of Regents approved spending about $28.8 million in self-financed bonds for student housing at UH-Hilo.

The regents are asking the governor to approve about $719.6 million in UH construction projects over the next two years, including $494 million in deferred maintenance and renovations.

The governor will pick and choose and likely not approve the full amount in his budget submitted to the Legislature.

State Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said the Legislature has been supportive of UH construction projects.

"We have major infrastructure needs, and we have to find creative and unique ways to get them built and maintained," Tokuda said.

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