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Lawmakers OK bill on capital improvements

Lawmakers OK bill on capital improvements

Funding included for state hospital completion, Highway Patrol project

May 12th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

Missouri lawmakers on Friday approved the final $1.2 million to complete construction of the new Fulton State Hospital and to pay for demolition of the Biggs Building.

The project, which includes replacing one of the oldest mental health facilities in the nation, has been underway for several years, using money from a bonding program the Legislature approved several years ago.

With a little more than six hours left before the Constitution's 6 p.m. deadline, the Missouri Senate on Friday morning passed the last of the state's budget bills for the 2018-19 business year that begins July 1 — a nearly $102.4 million capital improvements plan.

"This year, I'm proud to say, we put a lot of money into capital improvements," Senate Appropriations Chairman Dan Brown, R-Rolla, told colleagues before the 31-0 final vote.

The bill also includes $6,369,301 for an expansion at the Missouri Highway Patrol's General Headquarters complex on East Elm Street.

"They need a lot more room for the DNA operations," Brown reminded senators, "to try to get DNA profiling up to speed."

The bill also includes $180,000 for campground expansion and construction of a new restroom and associated sewer lines at the State Fairgrounds in Sedalia.

And, Brown said, it includes more than $4.6 million for the Missouri Department of Transportation to improve port facilities and $1.7 million for the Department of Natural Resources' State Parks Division, including land acquisitions.

"Not buying new parks, but possibly expanding some of the parks," Brown added as the intention.

The Department of Conservation is spending about $33 million from its own dedicated funds for "a lot of projects that have been on-hold for a little bit," Brown said, "and this is giving them spending authority out of their own funds."

Last year, Greitens vetoed money in the budget for a new Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

This year, state Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, explained, the budget includes just $1 for that project, while officials continue to discuss what it will look like.

The capital improvements bill was the final piece in Missouri's $28.655 billion spending plan for the next business year.

Slightly more than a third of that — about $10 billion — comes from general revenue funds, including income and sales taxes.

At a Friday afternoon news conference, Brown — who is term-limited and can't run again for his Senate seat — thanked Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, for naming him as head of the Appropriations Committee for the last two years.

"I'm really proud of the budget (and) I think it's one of the best budgets we've ever written," he said. "I've worked really, really hard to not create or leave any holes in the budget for the next year. I think there's somewhat of a temptation, if you're going out the door, to spend all the money and run — and I did not want to do that and we did not do that."

Brown said budget writers this year "spent money very wisely — we didn't squander money on anything."

He said his biggest disappointment with this year's budget, Brown said, was getting only half of the extra pay raise he supported for Corrections Officers 1, 2 and 3.

In addition to the $700-per-year raise all state employees making less than $70,000 a year will be getting, Brown had proposed a second $700-per-year increase for those lowest levels of employees who work daily in the state's prison system.

The final budget bills include a $350 annual raise for those officers, starting July 1.

Then, when the rest of the pay raise package kicks in Jan. 1, the Corrections officers also will get the $700 annual pay boost that goes to most state employees.

"They're actually getting $1,050 a year," Brown told reporters.

The continuing growth in Medicaid spending will continue to be a headache for lawmakers in future years, he said.

"Medicaid grows every year," Brown explained. "We passed the supplemental budget awhile back, and it was $165 million in general revenue and another $321 million of additional (federal) Medicaid spending" — for the rest of the 2017-18 business year that ends June 30.

Medicaid spending "is always the 800-pound gorilla in the room," Brown said.

He noted lawmakers set aside $100 million to help pay for the supplemental budget next year.