Missouri lawmakers list construction needs but don't recommend doing projects

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 | 5:02 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers agreed to a system for deciding what to build using federal stimulus money Tuesday, but only after stating the resulting project list isn't considered an endorsement of the projects.

It means the proposal is more an example of how construction plans can be evaluated than a document that will directly guide state planning on what projects to complete.

Rep. Ed Wildberger said that creating a project list but not recommending funding sets up the report to be ignored.

"Put it on the shelf and let it gather dust," said Wildberger, D-St. Joseph.

A House and Senate joint committee spent the summer evaluating possible construction projects that could be funded using the federal money and approved a report Tuesday detailing about $1 billion worth of proposals that were ranked roughly according to their priority. But lawmakers only approved the report after stipulating that the plan wasn't a recommendation that the projects should actually be funded.

Several senators — including the appropriations committee chairman who has significant influence on budget issues — said they were concerned approving a project list could appear to be a recommendation that the proposals receive money. State revenues declined last year and are still falling, and many lawmakers are skeptical there will be money for capital improvement projects.

Over the past decade, several proposed state construction plans have fizzled. Critics of Tuesday's report said that approving another construction list that might never be funded lowers the chance that past projects will ever be completed.

Committee leaders said it nonetheless was helpful to develop an evaluation process for potential projects, because budget leaders struggled last year with how to use the stimulus money. Committee chairman Rep. Ryan Silvey said the report will be a starting point for future discussions on capital improvements.

"It was worth it if nothing else than to show the public that we are capable of having a deliberative process and that not every deal is made in a smoke-filled room," said Silvey, R-Kansas City.

The projects outlined in the report were broken into four groups with about $250 million worth of construction in each category.

The first category generally includes the top priorities, the largest of which calls for spending $50 million for previously approved state maintenance projects that have been withheld. It also includes money for a series of stalled college construction projects that initially were to be funded by selling assets from the state's higher education loan authority.

That includes $40 million for renovations at Truman State University in Kirksville, $31 million for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center at MU and $29 million for two academic buildings at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

The first group of projects also included $4.4 million for the Missouri National Guard's top maintenance needs and $1.9 million for repairs at the state's veterans homes.

In the second grouping of projects, one of the largest items was $69 million for the top repair and maintenance needs at state office buildings. Among those items was $33 million to repair the outside of the state Capitol and $3.1 million to replace falling concrete inside the Senate's parking garage on the Capitol grounds. Maintenance at state prisons would use $29 million.

The most expensive construction project was $350 million to replace the Fulton State Hospital within the Department of Mental Health. That construction project was too large to be included in any of the project groups, so its cost was split between the third and fourth categories.

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