February 10, 2016

Big change in House defeats capital improvements bill

It received 97 votes one day in the House and only 68 the next. A $550 million capital improvement plan funded through federal economic stimulus money has been defeated in the House with its ultimate fate now uncertain.

House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet (R-Wildwood) struggles to understand what went wrong from preliminary approval to final defeat.

"I don’t think anybody bothered to read the bill to understand what’s in there," Icet says. "They just wanted to make a political statement"

Apparently a political statement against pork, though Icet bristles at those accusations and demands to know what would be considered pork: an expansion of the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia, repairs to various veterans homes, construction of a mental health facility in St. Louis, purchase of a statewide emergency communication system among other items in HCS HB 22.

On Wednesday, the House debated the bill at length. Democrats reiterated their criticism of the process Republicans used to rush the bill to the floor. In fact, the criticism from the minority focused far more on process than on projects contained in the bill. At the end of the debate, the bill received a firm vote of support upon preliminary consideration: 97-to-56.

The tone of debate shifted a bit on Thursday. Only two Democrats spoke, but both charged Republicans were pushing pork. Icet made a short statement prior to the vote, seeming confident of the outcome.

Support, though, melted away. The bill was defeated 68-to-82; the votes against equaling the 82 votes needed to approve measures in the House.

On final approval, only 54 Republicans voted for the measure along with 14 Democrats; 32 Republicans voted against it as did 50 Democrats; two Democrats voted "present". There were three Republicans absent from the vote and eight Democrats; though earlier all representatives had been present in the chamber.

House Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley (R-Perryville) gives the bill little chance for a comeback.

"In my mind, I’d say it’s done," says Tilley. "But, around here, I’ve learned you don’t really say ‘dead’. But I will tell you my intentions to bring it up for a motion to reconsider are not high."

Minority Floor Leader Paul LeVota (D-Independence) finds it difficult to speculate about its future.

"You know, I’m still a little shocked that they (Republicans) bring up a bill that they can’t pass," says LeVota. "It rarely happens, so it will be interesting to see if they try to take a run at it again."

Time is running out. Budget bills must be approved before 6pm next Friday.

Download/listen Brent Martin reports (1:15 MP3)