Colleges, roadways, state hospital fare better in 2014 Missouri legislative session

Saturday, May 17, 2014 | 3:46 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — After rejecting previous bonding proposals and a tax increase to pay for infrastructure, the Republican-led Missouri legislature proved much more receptive during its annual session that just wrapped up.

Missouri lawmakers approved funding for capital needs on college campuses and state facilities and even endorsed a half-billion dollar sales tax proposal to bolster money for highways and the state's transportation network.

The final score card includes a roughly $200 million project at the Fulton State Hospital campus and a bonding package that would authorize $600 million for repairs and maintenance at state facilities and on college campuses. Voters also will decide later this year on a three-quarters-of-a-cent transportation sales tax increase that is expected to raise $534 million annually.

A year can make a big difference.

"The problem hasn't gone away," said Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles. "So as in so many things that we deal with, at some point, we have to address the issues."

Business and construction groups have worked for years to build support for a new transportation funding stream. A proposed 1-cent transportation sales tax failed in the final days of last year's legislative session.

The proposal endorsed this year by lawmakers would be in effect for 10 years and could be extended with a public vote. Ninety percent of the money would go toward state transportation initiatives, and 10 percent would be split among cities and counties for transportation projects. While the sales tax is in place, the state could not increase the fuel tax or operate toll roads.

Supporters said reducing the amount of the tax increase helped its passage through the legislature this year, but it still needs voter approval to take effect.

"We're here and the cliff is pretty sharp," said Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City. "So it's time to see what Missourians think is appropriate to fund transportation."

Lawmakers' embrace of infrastructure continued into Friday's closing hours. Among the last bills to pass was one authorizing bonding for renovation and repairs of existing state and higher education facilities.

College and university construction also was a significant component in the legislature's capital improvements budget, which allocated more than $220 million. Of that, $38.5 million is to come from bonding to pay for renovations and additions for an engineering building at the MU.

Other capital projects will require local matching funds, and several will demand that incoming state revenues meet Gov. Jay Nixon's more optimistic projections.

The Fulton State Hospital — Missouri's only maximum-security psychiatric facility and the oldest public mental health facility west of the Mississippi River — received funding for construction this session as well.

Officials propose to demolish a maximum-security unit and several other buildings and to construct a new 300-bed, high-security facility. That would house patients from the current maximum-security and intermediate-security facilities.

Next year's proposed state operating budget calls for issuing bonds through the Missouri Development Finance Board and paying them off over 25 years. The budget includes $14.2 million for payment on the debt.


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