House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood) and other House Republicans Monday unveiled a proposal to pay for a new state mental hospital at Fulton to replace the Fulton State Hospital. Stream says his proposal would save taxpayers about $120-million in comparison to the plan unveiled by Governor Jay Nixon (D) in December.
Those lawmakers propose using 5-year revenue bonds that, like those proposed in the Governor’s plan, would be appropriated by the legislature without a vote of the public. The state would make payments on those bonds of about $47-million annually.
Stream said he would file legislation for that plan Monday.
The legislature and Governor Nixon last week appeared at odds over the Fulton issue when Nixon, speaking to mental health advocates, criticized the House Budget Committee for not including $14-million dollars in the Fiscal Year 2014 Supplemental Budget. Nixon had proposed that money to go toward bond debt as part of his plan to pay for the project with 25-year appropriation bonds. Nixon accused the committee of voting to strip that funding from the bill, but Stream points out the committee never took such a vote.
After the announcement of the legislators’ plan, however, Nixon appeared supportive.
In a statement, his Press Secretary Scott Holste says,””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.”
Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) had been critical of using appropriation bonds, saying they are unconstitutional and criticizing the incurring of debt without a public vote. Asked about Stream’s plan, however, Kelly, who agreed with other lawmakers that the Fulton hospital must be replaced, backs off that criticism.
“Nothing big gets done in our business without compromise,” he says. “Would I do it differently? Sure, but that’s what democracy is about: listening to the ideas of other people and coming to a place everybody can live with.”
He credits Nixon for being supportive of Stream’s plan and says Stream has moved toward the Governor’s position as well.
“I don’t think we’re where we’re going to end up,” says Kelly, saying he expects change in the proposal as it moves through the legislative process, “but we’re making big progress.”
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) does not share the opinion of some in his chamber that the Fulton issue should be put to a public vote.
“My concern with a statewide vote on the state hospital is when you do a statewide vote there’s usually some kind of statewide educational effort and who’s going to go out and educate people on the need for a new state mental hospital?” Dempsey asks. “It needs to be done. We’re policy makers. We should be able to find a way to make sure that a project that needs to get done gets done.”
The Department of Mental Health has said that based on designs drafted several years ago, it was estimated a new maximum security psychiatric hospital would cost about $211-million dollars. The Department says a new design is needed.
The legislature last year appropriated $13-million in a capital improvements budget bill for the design and planning of a new hospital. Governor Nixon withheld $11-million of that appropriation until December when he announced his plan. He said last week he would be “unable to move forward,” with planning and design because of the House Budget Committee’s decision not to include that $14-million in the supplemental budget.
Both Nixon’s plan and that of legislators would pay for the approximate remaining cost of the project, $189-million dollars.
The state began operating a mental hospital at Fulton in 1851. The oldest buildings still in use at the site date back to 1937. It is the state’s only maximum-security psychiatric hospital and is widely regarded by elected officials in both parties to be unsafe for patients and staff. The structure is also blamed for a large portion of the state’s workers’ compensation claims each year.