House Republican leaders say they remain committed to seeing the state mental hospital at Fulton replaced this year, no matter what happens with the tax cut proposal they sent to Governor Jay Nixon (D) last week.
A gathering of those with an interest in the future of the Fulton hospital heard from two House Republicans on Tuesday. That gathering included the Democratic candidate for the House seat that includes Fulton, former representative Gracia Backer.
Backer says she had been told, “that the legislature would threaten to veto the Fulton State Hospital moneys or legislation if the governor vetoed SB 509.”
House Majority Floor Leader John Diehl (R-Town and Country) has heard the same thing, and told the crowd it isn’t true.
“Representative [Jeanie] Riddle and I are here to reconfirm our commitment to this facility, to reconfirm out commitment to get the funding done for the facility this year,” said Diehl.
Diehl thinks Governor Nixon is trying to tie the two issues in an effort to garner support for a veto of the tax cut bill. He says there is evidence that opponents of the tax cut are looking for drum up fears in a phone conference last week.
“The notes of that call say that legislators are saying that K-12 [education funding] will be okay so we need to ratchet up mental health on the chopping block as a way to try to scare people,” Diehl says.
He also says when Nixon criticized the legislature for voting to borrow money for “unnecessary” building projects, he was referring to Fulton.
Nixon asks on the contrary, “How was any of my comments ever not clear that the primary thing that we need to do as far as capital this year is to rebuild the Fulton State Hospital?”
Nixon says he was referring to a larger bonding proposal that would pay for other improvement and maintenance projects, some of which he says are already underway. He says he continues to support advancing that project this year.
Representative Jeanie Riddle (R-Mokane) echoes the arguments of several who say the fate of the tax cut proposal and of the Fulton project should not be connected.
“It shouldn’t be because we can do both,” says Riddle. “There’s not an either/or in this process.”
Three proposals are moving in the legislature to pay for a new mental hospital at Fulton. The Senate Appropriations Committee this week adopted the plan proposed by Governor Nixon to pay for the hospital with bonds to be paid off over 25 years. A House plan would also use bonds but would pay them off over 5 years. Another bill that has passed the Senate would let the state raise the cap on the amount of bonds it can sell to $600-million. An accompanying resolution would use $200-million of that for Fulton State Hospital.