Nixon slashes funding for emergency communication network

Thursday, February 4, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 8:48 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 4, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon's latest cuts to a program that would improve communication among police, firefighters and rescue workers won't affect the project's progress, said a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

"We're going ahead with everything as planned," department spokesman Mike O'Connell said.

The interoperability project would create a statewide radio network to connect emergency responders. Motorola has been contracted to build the network, and O'Connell said the cut in funding will not affect the contract.

Nixon cut $29 million in funds for the project Monday, the largest of more than $73 million in cuts announced after January's revenue report came in about 12 percent lower than last year.

Former Senate Appropriations Chair Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, said the latest cut will only delay an inevitable need for millions of dollars in funds to complete the project.

The legislature appropriated $87 million in federal stabilization funds in 2009 for the project, more than half of which has been withheld by Nixon.

"We thought the use of one-time funds would be appropriate," Nodler said.

Current Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said the 2009 appropriation would have fully funded the entire project.

Some of the withheld money has been replaced by highway funds and a grant from the U.S. Commerce Department, O'Connell said.

But he also said the department has only spent $2.6 million so far, less than 5 percent of the originally appropriated funds.

"It's extremely early in the project," he said. "The state's been trying to do this for years."

The department is still identifying possible sites for radio towers and plans to use existing towers when possible, he said.

Nodler said the budget was based on an estimate of state revenue that has already fallen several hundred million dollars short of the mark.

State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said she hopes the most recent cuts will be the last, but if revenue continues to decline, future cuts may be necessary.

If February's numbers continue to decline, Luebbering said revenue estimates for next year may need to be revised, which would be a rare step.

Mayer said he's not confident that the current projection, which anticipates 3.6 percent revenue growth, will come to pass.

"We most definitely need to revise that estimate," he said.

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