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Missouri House Republicans Unveil Plan For New Fulton State Hospital

Republicans in the Missouri House have unveiled their proposal for funding construction of a new state mental hospital in Fulton.

Their plan is similar to the one made in December by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. While both plans would use revenue bonds to pay for construction, the governor's proposal would pay back the bonds in 25 years, and the House GOP proposal would repay the bonds in five years.  The bill encompassing the alternate plan was announced Monday by House Budget Chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood.

"This will save the taxpayers $120 million (in interest) over the life of the project," Stream told reporters Monday at the State Capitol.  "The bond payments will be just under $47 million a year, and the proposal will allow the Fulton State Hospital construction to begin as originally scheduled, and should not change the timeline for completion."

Using revenue bonds, also known as appropriation bonds, would not require a vote of the people.  A few lawmakers from both parties have objected to that approach, saying that taking on debt without a vote would be unconstitutional.  Stream disagrees.

"We've checked it with several folks who we think are pretty good authorities," Stream said.  "We have used these bonds before in this state for a variety of projects, so we're pretty comfortable with using these bonds."

State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, has been a long-time proponent of building a new state mental hospital at Fulton.  He has also been one of the more vocal critics of using revenue bonds to pay for it, calling instead for issuing general obligation bonds, which require voter approval. He still holds that view, but he also called Stream's approach "statesman-like."

"I think we're making progress toward a solution with Fulton (State Hospital), and this is a substantial start and a step in the right direction," Kelly said.  "Nothing big like this ever gets done without compromise, and so I have to have a reasonable respect for the opinions of others."

When asked if he could vote for the proposal, Kelly responded, "Well, we're not there yet...let's keep going and keep working and see where we get."

Last week, Nixon blasted House Republicans when they did not include any funding for Fulton State Hospital in their proposed supplemental budget for the current fiscal year.  But the House GOP proposal has been warmly received by the Nixon administration.

"We briefed (Office of Administration Commissioner) Doug Nelson before we actually went into session" Monday, Stream said.  "He was pretty happy about it."

In addition, Nixon Press Secretary Scott Holste released the following statement:

"We appreciate members of the Missouri House and Senate for responding to Gov. Nixon's call to replace the dangerous and deteriorating Fulton State Hospital. We applaud Chairman Stream for working on a bipartisan plan to issue bonds to address this issue so that the project can begin without needless delay.  As this continues to move through the process, we look forward to working with members of the Senate and others to fund this project in the most cost-effective way possible."

The governor's proposal calls for issuing roughly $200 million in revenue bonds to pay for building a new Fulton State Hospital.  It opened in 1851 and is the oldest state mental hospital west of the Mississippi River. State Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, whose district includes the hospital, read a prepared statement to reporters in which she called it "the most dangerous place to work in the state."

"For the past six years I've worked to make Fulton State Hospital a safer place for both state employees and patients alike, (but) I've been met by roadblocks on all sides," Riddle said.  "Progress has been prevented because of revenue shortages, lack of political will, and mostly bureaucrats...(but) I feel confident today saying that the members of this General Assembly want to build a new Fulton State Hospital and they want to do it now."

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.