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Mo. Legislature has several building choices for budget surplus

Kehoe says now is time for discussions

Missouri government is taking in more money this year than lawmakers and Gov. Jay Nixon’s staff predicted last December, when the targets were set for this year’s state budget.

“I’m very happy for Jefferson City to receive some of this (extra) funding, not only to fix up this Capitol — which, I think, is the asset that we protect of Missourians — and make sure that we can start repairs so that we can keep it for the next hundred years,” state Sen. Mike Kehoe told the News Tribune last week, “but also being able to obtain a Capitol Annex building ... because this (Capitol) building, with the number of people who are in it, we cannot get it to where we need it to be to be ADA-accessible, and make some of the safety improvements we need to make in this building.”

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires public buildings to be renovated — as much as possible — so that people who must use wheelchairs, or who have other difficulties in getting around, still can use the buildings they help pay for.

But, for many years, some state House members whose offices are on the Capitol’s first floor have been placed on a “mezzanine” level above other lawmakers’ offices, with stairs the only way to reach either their offices or their staff members’ desks.

“So, some of the people who are in this (Capitol) have to be put somewhere else,” Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, explained last week, “and the closest building (for that) is the Transportation building just to the east of the Capitol.

“That will be a good annex, at some point in the future.”

Using some of the unexpected extra government revenue, lawmakers added $38 million to the two-year, capital improvements budget bill they passed last week, for “planning, design, and construction of a state office building including space for and renovation of the Missouri Department of Transportation Central Office.”

It was a proposal state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, called “the best news that Jefferson City has received out of the General Assembly and state government in a long time.”

But Nixon isn’t a fan, so far.

Nixon’s proposal for using some of the extra revenues included $28 million for structural repairs to the Capitol — which lawmakers raised to $50 million — $13 million for planning and designing a new Fulton State Hospital and $45 million for improvements to Missouri State Parks, which lawmakers cut to $20 million.

The governor didn’t recommend any funding for a new state office building to be erected on the former Missouri State Penitentiary grounds, and told reporters at a Friday morning news conference: “This is a Legislature that decided to add to its budget $38 million to build a state office building for bureaucrats that I didn’t ask for,” while cutting a senior citizens tax credit without reforming the state’s entire tax credits package, and threatening to harm the funding stream for a program that helps pay for services to disabled children.

When asked about the Legislature’s discussion of needing the new office building so the Capitol can be more ADA-compliant, Nixon said: “Let them tell that to the ‘First Steps’ folks. Let them tell that to the parents who don’t know whether their disabled kid, starting July 1, is going to be able to get the necessary services to live a normal life.

“Let them tell that to the senior citizens who they have put at risk to have to pay more taxes next year than they’ve paid this year, even though they’re on a fixed-income.

“Let them make that argument about how they need a shiny new building, to those Missourians!”

The new budget doesn’t include any money designated for leasing the top two floors of the Post Office building, 133 W. High St. — which some state officials also see as a logical place for some General Assembly-related offices.

The federal General Services Administration has been searching for a new tenant for those floors, since the U.S. District Court moved to the new courthouse four years ago.

“I believe that OA (already) has within their budget, for space that they lease, the funds they feel they could move that lease forward — if the right terms and conditions came about,” Kehoe said last week.

“Again, it’s another area of space that’s almost adjoining this Capitol, to where we could get some relief.”

But, whether lawmakers eventually get a chance to use the floors above the Main Post Office or the current MoDOT headquarters buildings, Kehoe said: “I think it’s too early to say who’s going where. I’ve seen several different plans, that have different groups of people in different spaces.

“So, those are conversations we’ll begin to have now, as we get out of (the legislative) session and try to figure out what the most appropriate things are.”

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