Our Opinion: Anticipated partisan rancor averted

The act of unfreezing capital improvements funds also has thawed some partisan chill.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday released the remaining $132.5 million of $400 million in funding approved last year by the Republican-led Legislature. The governor’s withholding was viewed as leverage to sustain his veto of a GOP tax-cut plan. The tactic succeeded and the governor prevailed.

When the governor released the remainder of the money, however, his intention for a $38 million portion deviated from what some Republicans had envisioned.

Last May, lawmakers designated the $38 million for “planning, design and construction of a state office building including space for renovation of the Missouri Department of Transportation Central Office.” Lawmakers discussed constructing a new building at the Missouri State Penitentiary redevelopment site, relocating the Transportation agency to the facility and moving some Capitol offices into the existing Transportation building.

In releasing the funds Friday, Nixon designated the $38 million to “improve the efficient use of state buildings.” And Doug Nelson, commissioner of Nixon’s Office of Administration (OA), said: “Let me say at the beginning — emphatically — there will not be the building of a new state office building for employees.”

We anticipated a partisan battle questioning the chief executive’s authority to redirect legislative appropriations.

We were wrong.

Area Republicans — including Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, Columbia, and Sen. Mike Kehoe and Rep. Jay Barnes, both from Jefferson City — were pleased by the release of funds and flexible about space needs.

Among new options being considered is St. Mary’s Health Center, which will be transferred to the state when a new hospital is occupied later this year.

Nixon is seeking funding to transfer certain Lincoln University programs to the facility, but roughly 100,000 square feet will remain available.

Nelson said OA intends to address overcrowding in the Capitol — mezzanine offices in the House do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act — and the three Republicans said they’re willing to listen to the agency’s plans.

We are pleasantly surprised that differing interpretations didn’t descend into partisan rancor.

Democrats and Republicans, members of the executive and legislative branches, recognized that a changing landscape had created additional options. And, in this case, they indicated a willingness to explore and confer.

The Gaelic expression — translated as “what’s seldom is wonderful” — applies here.

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