Construction of a new Fulton State Hospital moved one step closer to reality Thursday, when the Missouri Senate gave first-round approval to a $600 million bonding plan that includes about $200 million for the Fulton project.
And the new Fulton Hospital complex would be the only new construction included in the bonding plan.
"This bill is about deferred maintenance," sponsor Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, explained. "Even with $200 million (for colleges and universities), there's probably another $400 million to $600 million (of repairs) out there that we still have to figure out how to do - but it's not as critical as what's in this bill."
Senators voted 26-7 to "perfect" the bill, meaning it can't be changed before they vote on its final passage next week.
Parson circulated a rough draft of projects that would be paid for with money raised from the bond sales, including $3,456,069 for Lincoln University; $950,000 for Linn State Technical College; and $1,118,635 at Fulton's Missouri School for the Deaf.
He said a final list of projects still was being developed.
Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, urged colleagues to reject the bonding plan.
"When it comes to deferred maintenance, we have this problem of $400 million in deferred maintenance that we haven't budgeted for, for at least 10 years," Lamping explained. "What we are doing in this bill is, we are raising Missouri's debt ceiling. ...
"We're going to raise the debt ceiling, borrow more money and spend the money."
Still, Lamping said, he wasn't trying to block the Fulton project.
"I'm all in favor of having the Fulton facility paid for and, if we had to bond, then I would agree to that," he said. "But I don't think we have to" sell bonds for the hospital project.
The bill also includes $6 million to renovate space at the current St. Mary's Health Center complex for Lincoln University's nursing program. That work would be done after St. Mary's moves in November to its new complex off Missouri 179.
"St. Mary's would be willing to donate that (old) campus - which has been appraised at about $4.5 million - to the state, in exchange for a couple of concessions" so that it doesn't become an eyesore, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, told colleagues.
"About half of that campus - it's about 300,000 square feet - can be used for Lincoln's nursing school program and, in combination with that, Linn State Technical College has expressed an interest to move their med-tech program in, which is a great program that is growing by leaps and bounds."
But that would leave the other half of the old hospital available for the state's use, Kehoe told Parson.
As the Capitol approaches its 100th anniversary in 2018, Kehoe noted, "Everybody (in state government) has a lot of passion for making sure that we do the right thing to keep this building alive and well for the next 100 years."
That includes repairs and maintenance of the Capitol, eliminating the mezzanine offices on the House side and making most of the building more accessible to people with disabilities.
"The only way to do the (Capitol's) interior is to move people out," Kehoe said.
And that has state administrators looking at other options - including moving the Transportation department from its current headquarters just east of the Capitol to the St. Mary's site, and using the current MoDOT building for some of the offices now in the Capitol.
"This is all very much in the air," Kehoe said.
Lamping was one of several senators who would prefer paying for the projects through the annual budget process, rather than selling bonds now and having to repay that money, plus interest, over the next 20 years or so.
But Sen. Gary Romine, R-Ste. Genevieve, told colleagues during the debate: "Money's cheaper than it's ever going to be, right now. Contractors are bidding their best prices, to get these projects done.
"So, the timing's perfect for us to take this as a serious issue, and an opportunity to get this done."
After the vote, Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, agreed.
"We can do a lot, now," he told reporters. "To pay cash for these things means that, if you're the first guy in line, that's great.
"But, if you're the project that has to wait 20 years - and you need to fix the roof - you can't wait 20 years."
Dempsey said the bonding bill is "taking care of things that have been neglected for a long time, and really need our attention now - or they're going to lead to much more costly replacement later on."
Like the Fulton hospital where, Dempsey noted, "The time of repair has long passed for those buildings."
Parson said his bill includes many projects in Jefferson City, St. Louis and Kansas City.
But it also involves a lot of repair work throughout the state.
"This is spread out among a lot of universities, a lot of community colleges and a lot of public buildings," Parson said during the debate. "We have an obligation to do something (about maintenance) that, I feel like, we're obligated to do."
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, said he planned to filibuster the bill but, eventually, chose not to.
"The fact of the matter is, I don't like the bill," Schaaf said. "I, personally, hate to see the citizens of the state of Missouri being in further debt over and above the debt they're in now.
"Basically, we'll be putting our children and grandchildren into debt, that they will, eventually, have to pay off."
Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, cast one of the "no" votes, partly because it would sell bonds without statewide voter approval.
"I would rather see a bonding bill that has, basically, more (new) construction and less maintenance," Schaefer said.