Several times during the Missouri Legislature's last two weeks of the 2013 session, Gov. Jay Nixon accused lawmakers of adding "$38 million to build a state office building for bureaucrats that I didn't ask for."
When the state budget people in April counted more revenues than had been predicted last December, Nixon agreed the capital improvements bill should include an additional $13 million in planning and design money for a new Fulton State Hospital, $28 million for repairs to the Capitol and $45 million for improvements at numerous state parks.
But lawmakers added $38 million to the bill for projects to:
• Build a new office building on the Missouri State Penitentiary grounds, to be used by the state transportation department and some agencies currently occupying leased space around Jefferson City.
• Renovate the existing MoDOT Central Office building, just east of the Capitol, for legislative staff offices and, perhaps, offices for some freshman lawmakers.
"Getting MSP development started (is) a huge thing for our community," state Sen. Mike Kehoe said last Friday, "just a very important thing for the state of Missouri and Central Missouri, to be able to develop that asset and take it from the "diamond in the rough' that it is, to a "diamond on a nice, shiny hill.'"
Nixon was a little happier after the session ended Friday, because the Legislature had passed a separate bill restoring money for the "First Steps" program to the general revenue portion of the budget, rather than counting on the end of a tax credit for senior citizens who rent their homes to get the money to pay for First Steps.
Still, Nixon told reporters the new state office building "hasn't changed in my priorities, in the sense that the government needs to be behind the needs of the people. But putting this in a two-year appropriations measure that allows us to look at these things ... is not a bad way to do it."
Kehoe agreed the two-year funding plan for capital improvements allows Nixon's administration and lawmakers to take a longer-term view of the needs.
Nixon and Budget Director Linda Luebbering have said they want to make certain the economy doesn't shrink again, requiring the "unexpected increase" in revenues to switch to money needed to pay for other budgeted items.
"If we get strong economic growth that fills that fund up," the $38 million new office building still might win his approval, Nixon suggested, "but we have to get there, first, keeping the economy moving forward."
Meanwhile, the money is contained in a "budget" bill, so the governor has the authority to veto that line item, or sign the bill but withhold the spending - if he thinks spending the money would throw the budget out of balance.
"If the economy keeps moving forward and we have the resources there, we'll continue to look at that (new building), certainly," Nixon said Friday.
The governor publicly hasn't challenged the lawmakers' increasing to $50 million the appropriation for improving the Capitol.
Kehoe said last week that building the new office building, in the long run, helps the Capitol repairs.
"You can't get this building to where it needs to be, with the amount of people that are in it," he said, "so you've got to take a few people out of it.
"And that's where (using the MoDOT building as an) annex would come in handy - allowing us to move forward with some improvements in this building."