Parson’s vetoes cut millions in funding for projects in St. Louis and Rolla
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s vetoes last week cut some $555.3 million in funding for individual community projects from the $51 billion budget passed by the legislature earlier this year.
The governor cited Missouri’s continued financial stability as a key reason for his vetoes in the vast majority of them.
“Missouri has consistently maintained a AAA bond rating and we will ensure a balanced budget for years to come,” Parson wrote.
Projects whose funding was cut run the gamut, including veterinary technician programs at a few community colleges, salary increases for the Highway Patrol, removing vacant properties in St. Louis County and a handful of proposals to mediate erosion and manage stormwater.
Lawmakers had allocated millions for projects that would help with flooding and erosion in parts of the St. Louis region, including $500,000 to Wildwood and about $6 million to the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District.
While these amounts might not be that large in comparison to the total cuts, they delay work that’s inevitable.
Wildwood has nine watersheds and will need to protect the public infrastructure downstream from them, said Mayor Jim Bowlin.
“We have bridges and so forth that are supported by things that are embedded in the ground and water may be running around them,” he said. “Over time, the erosion can undermine the stability, the safety of some of these things.”
Bowlin said his city has already noticed this erosion in a few places and wants to address it before it gets worse.
“Like similar things in life, if you don’t take care of it when you start to notice problems, as we have, over the long term it’s going to cost more to fix it when it becomes more out of repair,” he said.
MSD lost out on money for four projects that would have helped the sewer district with stormwater and mitigate erosion along some creeks in the region, said Brian Hoelscher, MSD’s executive director and CEO.
“Your garden, your backyard fence, maybe your garage, possibly your swimming pool if you happen to have one in the backyard, might have gone down the creek bank and into the creek,” he said.
Erosion is worsening with heavier rainfall because of climate change, but MSD doesn’t have enough money to mitigate it and the other effects of massive stormwater events, Hoelscher said.
“We don’t have a whole lot of money for stormwater,” he said. “We’ve identified already over $700 million worth of stormwater issues.”
The sewer district did receive around $21 million in American Rescue Plan Act grants for stormwater projects, but it’s exploring other ways to consistently raise that money instead of relying on allocation from state funding, Holescher said.
“We have a stormwater proposal in front of our rate commission right now that will require voter approval that will generate almost $35 million a year, and that is every year,” he said.
Other projects in the St. Louis area escaped Parson’s veto pen with at least some funding intact. Great Rivers Greenway came away with $15 million for its Brickline Greenway; the state budget had allocated $25 million.
“$15 million is a significant investment – the support of the state helps move multiple segments of the project forward,” said Great Rivers Greenway CEO Susan Trautman. “With this boost, we can leverage other opportunities, such as federal grants and alignment with nearby projects in the city of St. Louis.”
Multiple initiatives related to education did not make it to the finish line because of the governor’s vetoes. Parson cut more than $55 million in funding from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education budget, which oversees public schools in Missouri.
There were 16 initiatives on the chopping block, including grants for tutoring, mental health technology platforms for students and school safety software. The governor didn’t cut anything that was in the education department’s initial budget request for this year.
In a separate bill, the governor also denied a request for $13 million dollars for the Riverview Gardens School District. That money was set aside for building repairs, upgrades and a lead assessment.
Parson also vetoed almost $39 million in funding for the department of Higher Education and Workforce Development.
That included some funding for the state historical society, the agricultural extension service and a professional development program in technology for teachers.
Rolla downtown revitalization
Among the projects Parson vetoed was a $3 million grant to help Rolla with its downtown revitalization project. The money would have paid for safety upgrades including lighting and pedestrian crossings, façade improvements for businesses along Route 66 and the construction of a fountain plaza that highlights the town’s history.
“We were very disappointed when we heard it was vetoed,” said Lonna Sowers, president of the Downtown Rolla Business Association. “If you don't have a strong downtown, everybody suffers. Our regional medical center suffers. Missouri S&T suffers. Our community as a whole suffers.”
Sowers says some of the project can still move forward using state transportation dollars, but the community is not giving up on getting the rest of the money.
That could include a veto session where the legislature could restore some of the projects.
“We’ve heard that is a possibility,” Sowers said, “and we’re exploring that option.”