JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri has an unprecedented amount of federal cash flowing into the state, and now the governor and legislature have to decide how to spend it.

Almost $2.9 billion of funds come from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, and the governor’s recommendations for spending were discussed Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

ARPA is a federal stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in March 2021. Its goal is to “provide direct relief to Americans, contain COVID-19, and rescue the economy,” according to the White House website.

In Missouri, this will come in the form of dozens of expenditures and programs. As State Budget Director Dan Haug walked senators through more than 200 pages of recommendations, he explained the “three basic buckets that we can spend the money on.” The first bucket is COVID response and economic recovery. The second is infrastructure, specifically sewerage, water projects and broadband. The third bucket for spending is for state services and to recoup revenue loss from the pandemic.

After a change in the way the federal government allows states to calculate revenue loss, mainly allowing for a fiscal year calculation instead of using a calendar year, Haug said Missouri should receive around $1.7 billion for that bucket alone. This was an increase from the previous estimate.

Before going line-by-line through the book of recommendations, Haug laid out the administration’s thought process behind them.

“We wanted projects that were, generally, one-time expenditures,” he said, adding that the full cost of these projects was accounted for in each recommendation. “We wanted projects that would give a long-term impact.”

Haug also noted that these federal funds must be allocated by 2024 and spent by 2026.

Some significant aspects of the COVID response section include: workforce outreach, cell phone tower development, community and industrial site development programs, grants to small businesses, tourism marketing, entertainment venue grants, improvements for the highway patrol crime lab and addressing of the rape kit backlog, expansion of telehealth for rural areas, a crime prevention program and more.

The infrastructure section would bring wireless internet to state parks, improve both local and state park water systems, provide roughly $225 million for broadband infrastructure and more.

The final bucket, intended for state services and revenue loss, would provide funds to “upgrade the I.T. backbone” of the state and “get us into this century, as far as technology goes,” Haug said. It would also provide funds for modernizing the automated child support system, completing the Rock Island Trail, improving cellular coverage at the state Capitol complex and allow for partial reimbursement for certain large projects at state universities. This bucket would also provide funds for accountants and other staff needed in order to distribute them, and field any federal audits that might come down the road.

Discussion between senators and witnesses at the hearing remained mostly questions or requests for clarification. Sens. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, and Denny Hoskins, R-Warrenburg, both voiced concern over the cost of certain projects. Even on projects they support, they requested more detailed breakdowns of cost.

Hough was especially concerned about the funding for a section of the Rock Island Trail, which he calculated to be about $900,000 per mile. Dru Buntin, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said this part of the trail is especially expensive due to the need to build tunnels and culverts, and to retrofit bridges that were formerly used by trains.

“Those tandem bikes can be very heavy,” Hough said, talking about the cost of retrofitting a rail bridge. “Probably not as heavy as a train.”

Hoskins took issue with the hiring of temporary positions needed to implement these funds. He said in his time in the legislature he has seen many temporary state jobs become permanent. He does not want the same to happen with these jobs.

“I can guarantee that these positions will not be on the chopping block in 2026,” Hoskins said.

“I disagree with that statement, senator,” Haug said.

The committee did not vote on any of the spending plan, nor did it give an indication as to when a vote might come. Committee Chair Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, did tell members to prepare for an executive session next week in which they would vote on some bills that have come before the committee.

  • State Government Reporter, Fall 2020, Spring 2021 and Spring 2022. Engagement and outreach, Fall 2021. General Assignment reporter Fall 2020. Reach me at wickerperlis@mail.missouri.edu, on Twitter @WickerPerlis or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700

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