Riddle, House Majority Floor Leader try to dispel rumors surrounding Fulton State Hospital funding

Funding still a go for new building

Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, answers questions from reporters about funding for a new Fulton State Hospital alongside Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, Tuesday during a press conference. Riddle said the press conference served as a reminder that building a new FSH is still a priority.

Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, answers questions from reporters about funding for a new Fulton State Hospital alongside Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, Tuesday during a press conference. Riddle said the press conference served as a reminder that building a new FSH is still a priority. Photo by Brittany Ruess.

State Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, and House Majority Floor Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, addressed what Diehl called “rhetoric that’s been going around the Capitol the past couple days” regarding funding for a new Fulton State Hospital and a possibly broad-based tax cut with House Bill 509.

Diehl referenced a release from Gov. Jay Nixon’s office on the Democratic governor’s thoughts about House Bill 509, which outlines tax cuts many Missouri Republicans are hopeful for, during a press conference Tuesday at FSH.

A line of the press release, which was reprinted on poster board, was highlighted.

“In this session, the majority in the legislature has … voted to borrow money for unnecessary building projects.”

The only new building project the General Assembly has voted on this session is a new FSH.

Riddle said it’s her hope that this line of the press release is not in regards to the Fulton State Hospital or House Bill 2020 — a bill sponsored by Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, which only appropriates funds for a new FSH.

“I call upon the governor to recommit his pledge that he made in December, that he made again at the state of the state and in January at Fulton City Hall that Fulton State Hospital is a top priority,” Riddle said.

In Nixon’s press conference Tuesday to discuss his concerns on Senate Bill 509, Nixon questioned how his words or actions were misinterpreted when asked about FSH. He stated rebuilding FSH has been his top priority in terms of capital improvements.

“It needs to be rebuilt. Clearly,” Nixon said. “I laid out a bond proposal on that. It was in my State of the State. I’ve had countless meetings with significant members of the legislature about that. I’ve stated time and time and time again, this is the year to get that done — and anyone that has not had the ability to hear that, I’ll be glad to say it one more time.”

Nixon also commented on other bonding bill projects, but didn’t specify projects on the Senate-passed bonding list that he was or was not in favor of.

“The laundry list there was a tad long and some of those projects are ones that were already underway, it would appear,” Nixon said. “So, I think when you’re talking about bonding, I don’t think you should be doing it for things (where) the money’s already been appropriated.”

Diehl said the purpose of the press conference was to “reconfirm commitment today that we’re going to build a facility and we’re going to keep out of politics of the tax cut and we’re going to get it done this year.”

If all goes well for FSH, groundbreaking on a new facility would be in Spring 2015, Diehl said.

“I think it (funding bill for FSH) has a chance if people stop pointing fingers,” Diehl said.

Riddle said this is not an “either, or” situation, and that a tax cut and new FSH — through HB 2020 — are possible.

Rep. Ed Schieffer, D-Troy, who is up against Riddle in the Senate District 10 race, said he feels the Republican party is “holding the hospital bill hostage” as the governor contemplates vetoing House Bill 509.

Gracia Backer, 18-year House veteran and Democratic candidate for the 49th district, attended the press conference and said the mental health facility — built in 1851 — should never be a “Democratic-Republican issue,” and added she heard rumors that the “Republican-controlled legislature would take (FSH) out of the budget if the governor vetoed the tax cut bill.”

“This gossip is going both ways. There’s just as much finger pointing both ways,” Backer said. “I feel very confident that the governor will keep (FSH) in (the budget). He certainly knows the importance of it. He’s committed to it. I think that he will certainly hold that commitment. I think this (press conference) was blowing smoke.”

Backer said she agreed with Diehl on one of his points — the outcome won’t be known until the last day of session on May 16 because the House and Senate cannot predict what the other is doing.

Her Republican opponent, Travis Fitzwater of Holts Summit, also weighed in on the issue.

"I am disappointed that the Governor has made comments suggesting that the Fulton State Hospital project and other mental health funding would be in jeopardy because of the General Assembly's recent passage of a responsible income tax bill. I support a responsible tax cut package and have the opinion that SB 509 can become a reality along with the immediate construction of a new state of the art facility at Fulton State Hospital," Fitzwater said in a press release.

House Bill 2020’s most recent activity was on April 9 when the House Rules Committee, which Riddle chairs, voted “do pass.” It has been read for a first and second time. Appropriation bills must be truly agreed and finally passed by May 9 — a little more than two weeks from today.

In the same press release Diehl and Riddle referenced in their press conference today, Nixon said Senate Bill 509 was “this year’s reckless fiscal experiment (that) looks a lot like last year’s reckless fiscal experiment,” referring to House Bill 253, the controversial tax cut bill from the 2013 session. Nixon vetoed House Bill 253 and it failed to receive enough votes to override his veto.

What’s important for FSH Chief Operating Officer Marty Martin-Forman is simply that a new FSH is built.

“For us here at the facility, that is our hope. That is our wish,” Martin-Forman said. “It’s our job to supply the information necessary for the right decision to be made. And, we’re just going to step back and wait for the legislative process to move forward.”

Legislative approval

A Missouri House panel has endorsed a bonding proposal that calls for spending at least $200 million on a new state mental health facility in Fulton. The measure would authorize a total of $400 million of bonds subject to voter approval later this year. The House Budget Committee advanced its measure Tuesday.

Senators earlier approved a $600 million bonding plan for the Fulton State Hospital, higher education institutions and other state facilities. The Senate version would not require voter approval. Projects in the Senate bonding measure would be for repair or renovation of existing facilities — except for the Fulton campus. The House version doesn’t have that restriction.

Jefferson City News Tribune reporter Bob Watson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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