By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is proposing to use money recovered from consumer fraud cases to help pay for a $3.2 million renovation of his staff's office.
Koster said Wednesday that the remodeling would spruce up a long-neglected part of the Broadway State Office Building, complementing repairs made over the past couple years to the building's leaking windows and roof.
At least one state senator questioned whether it was a wise use of money to remodel an office, especially as the state is considering cuts to colleges, universities and other services because of a state budget shortfall.
Koster's proposal, which is pending before lawmakers, would not use general state revenues. Instead, it would tap nearly $2.8 million from a special fund set up to receive money from consumer fraud and unfair merchandising cases brought by the attorney general's office, as well as nearly $400,000 from federal funds.
The goal is to make the space equivalent to "a modest, model-quality law office," Koster said. "We're not trying to make anything fancy over there."
But that may not matter in terms of public perception, said Sen. Will Kraus, who questioned Koster's plan when it was presented to the Senate Appropriations Committee this week.
"I'm a little concerned that we're making significant cuts in other parts of our budget, and we're putting in new carpet and new furniture," said Kraus, R-Lee's Summit. "The general public out there is probably not going to understand that."
On Wednesday, the attorney general's office took a reporter with The Associated Press on a tour of the first and fifth floors of the office building, which are targeted for renovation. The first floor has drop ceilings that are about eight feet high, which would be removed to provide a more open atmosphere. Some of the walls also would come down, and well-worn carpet squares and faded cubicles would be replaced. The heating and cooling system also would be improved, said Rhonda Meyer, the deputy chief of staff for Koster.
Before the building's windows recently were replaced, outdoor moisture had seeped into the building, causing mold to grow and pockets of air to protrude from the plaster or wallpaper in some places.
"State buildings should be maintained and not allowed to crumble," Koster said. "There's only so long we can turn our back on decaying infrastructure."
The first floor of the Broadway State Office Building had been occupied by the Department of Social Services, but the attorney general's office staff moved there in late 2010 after the state quit leasing space elsewhere in Jefferson City, Koster said.