JEFFERSON CITY — Money for a new Ellis Fischel Cancer Center took a legislative step forward Monday after the Missouri Senate sent the governor an appropriations bill with the project as its centerpiece.
The bill, originally proposed in the House by Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, includes more than $31 million for Ellis Fischel and $15 million for a new nursing building on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. The proposal, which cleared the House earlier this month, passed the Senate without change by a 30-3 vote.
The money for the projects would come from the sale of assets held by Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority under a plan proposed by Gov. Matt Blunt and passed by the legislature last year.
Last year’s MOHELA proposal originally included the two projects, but after lengthy protests by Sens. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, and Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, Republicans stripped the two projects from the appropriations bill. That came after Senate Republicans used a rare parliamentary procedure to shut off debate and force a vote on the sale of MOHELA’s assets.
Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, was one of three senators to vote against the bill Monday — shouting his dissenting vote in the Senate. He said that he thinks Graham and Justus had been warned the projects would be stripped if they didn’t end their arguments.
“We told them finally, hey, we’ll give you another three hours to talk about it, then vote no, and we’ll keep the money in,” he said. “But if you don’t, this money will be taken out and never returned. And he (Graham) wouldn’t shut up. Neither would Senator Justus, because they were people of principle.”
Engler said he thinks that “if you tell somebody you’re going to do something, you’re going to take the money away, it should be taken away.”
Graham said he was happy the money will still be coming to Columbia.
“Well, obviously we’re very pleased to be able to get $31 million for Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and to have that approved without any restrictions on research that were part of the conversation last session,” Graham said. “If Sen. Engler doesn’t want to vote for a comprehensive cancer hospital that treats people from every corner of the state over a petty partisan issue, that’s fine. That’s his right to do that.”
Another one of the three dissenting votes came from Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, who was the lone Republican in the Senate to vote against the original MOHELA bill last April.
“There are better ways for Missouri to spend money than to build more buildings,” Bartle said.
The legislation passed the Missouri House last week and only needs the governor’s signature before it would take effect.