Governor Jay Nixon has announced a proposal to pay for construction of a new Fulton State Hospital using appropriation bonds.
Nixon also announced he would release $11-million that he had withheld in a supplemental budget bill that included a total of $13-million for the purpose of designing a new hospital. The cost to design and build a new mental hospital has been estimated at $211-million dollars. Nixon proposes using a strategic bond issuance to make up the remainder.
The plan will be part of his proposal for the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.
Nixon says legislative support for replacing the current facility at Fulton grew last year as legislators were weighing asking voters to approve up to $1.2-billion in general obligation bonds to address capital needs at state facilities as well colleges and universities throughout Missouri.
He calls the project long overdue and says he wanted to separate it out from that discussion.
“I just don’t want this one to get into the complicated mish-mash of the session,” Nixon says. “It’s just too important a project to be put into the pile of all the projects.”
At least one state lawmaker says he would be a “nay” if the proposal reaches a vote. Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) says issuing bonds without voter approval is unconstitutional.
“What the Governor is proposing is a creature that does not exist in our law,” Kelly says. “It’s been done before and I believe its been done before unconstitutionally … you can find a section of the Constitution that says the state shall borrow only under the following conditions, and the conditions the Governor sets forth are not in there.”
Kelly likens the proposal to deficit spending in Washington D.C.
“It would appear to me as if the Governor’s preparing to be a United States Congressman if he’s willing to borrow like this, because they have more experience with this borrowing than we do in Missouri.”
Nixon says the Metropolitan St. Louis Psychiatric Hospital, the Northwest Missouri Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, the Bonne Terre Correctional Facility and the Truman State Office Building in Jefferson City are all public projects that were paid for with appropriation bonds.
Nixon says, “I don’t think that legislators and governors over the years have had any trouble doing this when it’s appropriate, and when we’ve done what we’ve done in a bipartisan way over the last fe years which is to lessen the debt load for the state. It is clearly a mechanism that … is appropriate for a project of this magnitude at this time.”
Fulton Behavioral Health Division Director Mark Stringer was supportive of the legislative effort to pay for Fulton with general obligation bonds, but says he’s relieved at the Governor’s proposal because it wouldn’t take the additional time to go in front of voters.
He says the outdated facility lends itself to violence and workplace injuries with issues like poor lines of sight and echoing cooridors that can agitate patients.
“Fulton State Hospital is one of the most dangerous places in Missouri to work,” Stringer says. “I have staff there and patients who are getting injured every day in large part because of the sorry condition of that facility. Anything that we can do to get a new facility as quickly as possible and as safely as possible, I’m in favor of.”
Fulton State Hospital is the oldest operating psychiatric facility west of the Mississippi, having opened in 1851. The oldest building still standing on the site dates back to 1937.