JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri Senate committee removed funding Thursday for the construction of a new Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia.
The committee voted 10-1 to strip out $31 million for the project. The money would have come from the federal recovery package designed to reimburse the state for highway construction. Missouri might have had to repay federal money used for the cancer center instead of roads.
The Missouri Department of Transportation has raised concerns that the agency would not have received more federal money until the funds used for the cancer center had been repaid.
Lawmakers for several years have tried to fund the building of a new cancer center, which is part of the UM Health System. But the money has never come through.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the state needs to decide whether cancer treatment or roads are a bigger priority. "There is no higher project then the people's cancer hospital at the University of Missouri," Schaefer said.
Last year, the legislature approved money for the cancer center project. But Gov. Jay Nixon prevented that money from being spent. The cancer center was included this year on a list of state projects that already have been approved by lawmakers but not yet completed.
Committee members said there are construction projects across the state they would like completed.
"It would be unfair to the rest of the state to single out one project that is relatively new to the list and fund it," said Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis.
Senators also voiced concern that spending federal recovery money to fund the cancer center would spur lawmakers to use it for other local projects.
"It's going to be a complete feeding frenzy if we do it this way," said Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield. Purgason said projects in his legislative district are just as important as the cancer center.