Amendment meant to cut Ellis Fischel funding shut down by House

Monday, April 26, 2010 | 9:11 p.m. CDT; updated 10:13 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 27, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House gave a 119-38 vote to shut down an amendment that would have cut $31 million in funds for an expansion of Ellis Fischel Cancer Center.

The funding for the center is part of a re-appropriations bill that received first-round approval Monday. The money for the program had been withheld from appropriations by Gov. Jay Nixon last year.

The amendment that would have cut the funding was proposed by Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains.

The Ellis Fischel funding came from a two-year $350 million construction bill created in 2009, according to House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood. The re-appropriation bill takes money that has yet to be appropriated from other bills and assigns it to different expenditures.

The question has been to figure out how to fit in the project that only three weeks ago wasn't even on the budget, said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia. Kelly, who worked to restore funding for the center, said the legislation has been a long process but passed a major obstacle by receiving first-round approval. He said the "great champion" of the appropriation was Icet.

Federal money comes to Missouri through several "pipes," Kelly said. One of those pipes reimburses the state for highway projects, but no law — either state or federal — prohibits using that money to fund other projects.

"It's a pipeline, but it has a valve," Kelly said. "What I did was find the valve that other people did not realize that was there. So at the last minute, we turned the tap on that valve."

Franz said he worried the center's funding was nothing but an earmark that would take away from federal money already promised specifically for road and bridge improvements. He said his amendment wasn't against the cancer center itself, but mentioned there are cancer centers around the state already.

"We're setting a precedence here that's a little dangerous down the road," Franz said.

Kelly said opponents might say money can't be moved from road improvement projects, but he's already learned from the federal highway department that it's allowed.

Icet said legislators have tried to fund the center for at least the past four years, but the money was never available. While he said he understands the governor's goal of a balanced budget, he said the center is an important project.

"This is one of the few that truly is a critical need and serves to the benefit of a significant number of people in the state," he said.

The center's total project cost is projected to be around $52 million, said Mary Jenkins, spokeswoman for the center. The additional $21 million needed to build the 100,000-square-foot facility would come out of University Hospital's operating revenue.

Jenkins said the project would support doctors, nurses, new technology and a higher patient capacity, all of which are needed to keep current with treatment and research.

Icet said preliminary design plans and other upfront work will begin sometime in the next fiscal year. Another benefit for the project, he said, is that it would create hundreds of jobs for Missourians during a bleak economy.

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