Columbia projects one step closer to millions in funding
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Columbia projects one step closer to millions in funding

Date: April 29, 2009
By: Chris Dunn
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB22, http://www.mdn.org/2009/STORIES/FISCHEL.HTM, http://www.mdn.org/2009/STORIES/BONDS.HTM

JEFFERSON CITY - State lawmakers brought Columbia a step closer to tens of millions of dollars and economic growth after reviewing two pieces of legislation Wednesday.

Funding for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center was restored to a bill that advanced Wednesday and may be decided in the House on Thursday. A Senate committee also approved an $800 million bond issue to benefit capital improvement projects that lost funding from the 2006 sale of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority's assets.

The House perfected House Bill 22, which would give $31.2 million to Ellis Fischel. As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, legislative staff in House Republican floor leader Steve Tilley's office said the bill will be heard Thursday. If the bill passes the House, it faces the Senate before it can move to the governor's desk.

The $800 million bond issue -- sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia -- passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. It heads to the Senate floor. If passed by the Senate, the bond will appear on the November ballot. If approved by voters, the bond will go before legislators, who will determine how much money each project would receive. Under the current language, MU is slated to receive $47.8 million for renovations.

Columbia legislators expressed cautious optimism about whether the bill and the bond issue will see success.

"I do think it (the bill) has a good chance because Rep. Kelly has certainly worked hard to make everyone feel included by it, and universities get benefit from it," said Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia.

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, called this legislative session "unpredictable."

"I'm optimistic about House Bill 22, but I mean, we've added a lot of things in there and taken a lot of things out," Webber said. He also said the Columbia representatives will work with Schaefer to ensure Ellis Fischel's funding stays in the bill when it is reviewed by the Senate.

Schaefer said that although he is familiar with the bill's general framework, he has not seen the bill yet. When asked if he thinks Ellis Fischel's funding will remain intact in the Senate, Schaefer said, "I will do everything I can. But keep in mind, I don't know what else is in (House Bill) 22. So I need to see it."

Schaefer also said the $800 million bond still faces challenges.

"I think the first hurdle is getting it to the Senate floor," Schaefer said. "And sure, as with any bill, there's the possibility of a filibuster. And I think it's no secret that, unlike the House, there are a few senators over here that don't think the states should take on any more debt. So they are vehemently opposed to this (bond)."

A former Columbia legislator said that despite the progress made Wednesday, any speculation about either the bill or the bond issue is premature. Ken Jacob, who represented Columbia in the House and Senate from 1983 to 2004, said "it's the nature of the beast" for the legislature to be unpredictable.

Citing term limits, Jacob said, "I don't think this combination of people is too predictable at all. Before, it was difficult to predict. Now, it's impossible."

Jacob also said he agrees with Kelly's idea to borrow money and spend it on capital improvements to help jumpstart the economy.

Kelly, whose freshman term was the same as Jacob's in 1983, said nothing is definite yet.

"It's way too early to speculate on how much it would be," Kelly said about how much money Columbia could receive from the bill and the bond issue. "Today, we made progress on a number of fronts ... but we're a long way from the finish line on all of these things."