Missouri House members discuss how to spend federal COVID relief funds

Politics

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The state of Missouri is trying to find what and who to spend federal COVID-19 relief money on as billions of dollars are headed to the Show Me State.

Universities, community colleges, and municipalities all testified in front of a House committee Monday asking for a part of the billions of dollars in federal funding coming to Missouri.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol also testified during Monday’s hearing before the Subcommittee on Federal Spending Committee to ask for money to build a new training facility since they have outgrown their current one.

“When folks show up to see our facility, it’s embarrassing,” Cathy Brown, director of MSHP Fleet and Facilities Division, said. “Frankly, we have to turn away folks, not only for classroom instruction but for lodging and force them to stay in a hotel. Even our cafeteria is small.

Brown said the dormitory has asbestos and the water line system needs to be replaced. The current training facility is more than 50 years old.

“Right now, based on the infrastructure, based on the size and based on the needs, we’ve outgrown it and it’s starting to exceed some of the costs that are involved with appropriations,” Mike Watson, director of MSHP Budget and Procurement Division, said.

The committee was formed last week to prioritize who needs money after Congress passed the American Rescue Plan last month, sending more federal dollars to the state.

“We know that there are a lot of dollars that have already floated into Missouri, but there are many more to come that have yet to come,” Rep. Doug Richey (R-Excelsior Springs) said. “This is not about partisan politics as far as I’m concerned, I’m worried about our fiscal well-being as a country and our state.”

Richey is the chairman of the committee.

“The dollars that we have received thus far and certainly the dollar that we have yet to receive, tied specifically to the American Rescue Plan, these are taxpayer dollars coming back to Missouri,” Richey said. “It’s my perspective that these dollars aren’t necessarily representative of taxpayer dollars that are coming back. It’s a presentative of taxpayer indebtedness.”

Missouri has received $3.93 billion to date in federal relief funds for COVID-19. The state has spent $3.63 billion according to State Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office. The Department of Public Safety has received the most from the state, with $1.26 billion going to DPS, followed by $916 million going to the Department of Social Services.

“We don’t really have Missouri taxpayer dollars sitting in Washington D.C. waiting to be released back to us,” Richey said. “We’re talking deficit spending. We’re talking about federal debt.”

Community colleges are asking for more money to train students after the pandemic has shown a light on workforce development.

“We continue to hear from employees in the trades that they can’t even bid projects simply because of a shortage in their skilled workforce,” Brian Millner, CEO of Missouri Community College Association, said. “We hear about healthcare workers being pulled in every direction because of the high need in hospitals and medical facilities.”

Millner told the committee he represents 12 community colleges across the state, and their biggest request is equipment.

“It costs about $50,000, for example, for a ventilator to train a respiratory therapist,” Millner said.

Nearly a dozen state universities testified to the committee on why they need the money. All of them said they had deferred maintenance on their campus that needed attention.

Lincoln University in Jefferson City said three the campus has three buildings over 50 years old that have $22 million worth of deferred issues that need fixed. Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph said their campus has nearly $18 million worth of plumbing and ADA compliance updates to make to its main campus infrastructure. Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau said the campus has $170 million of deferred that maintenance but is asking the committee for $13 million to reopen an art building and $10 to repair utility tunnels.

In the St. Louis area, Harris-Stowe State University is asking for $48 million for a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics building.

City officials also joined the hearing asking for a piece of the money to help their municipalities.

The City of Branson is asking for $14 million to replace the water line on the main road in the tourist area. The finance director for the city said Branson has a population of 11,000 but sees 100,000 visitors a year. An additional $4 million would help the city repair a wastewater treatment plant.

The City of Florissant’s Economic Development Chief Travis Wilson said the north county city is asking for $125 million to expand a four-lane highway, Highway 141, for a six-mile stretch.

“This will benefit several municipalities in north St. Louis County,” Wilson said.

Under the plan passed by Congress, Missouri could receive around $3 billion.

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