The state legislature appears to be moving forward with Governor Jay Nixon’s (D) plan to fund the rebuilding of Fulton State Hospital.
The House-Senate budget conference committee Tuesday morning adopted language for the final legislative budget proposal to pay for the new mental hospital through the sale of $198-million in appropriation bonds. It would make the first payment on those bonds in fiscal year 2015, in the amount of $14.2-million. The plan would pay those bonds off over 25 years.
This plan would cost more in interest in the long-term but less annually bond payments. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) says that was one of the considerations for using it, rather than a 5-year bond proposal that had been offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood).
“We’re being very cautious watching revenues right now,” says Schaefer. “They’re certainly not where the Governor predicted we would be and even though we were at a lower number we’re starting to have some concern about that as well. Given that uncertainty and … the primary goal here is to get Fulton built, going with the $14-million-a-year bond payment was a safer option at this point than the $44-million-a-year bond payment.”
Stream says the goal was just to get to the governor a plan to replace Fulton.
“I think everybody in this building wanted to fund Fulton. That was a number one priority,” says Stream. “We were moving three or four footballs down the field and hoping that one would pass. Every one of these options had plusses and minuses to them. This particular one, it’s a plus in that it only spends $14-million a year, but it does go out over 25-years which means that we’re going to be on the hook for more in interest.”
Nixon’s plan had called for making the first payment on those bonds in the mid-year supplemental budget, but the legislature did not include that first payment in that bill since it was weighing multiple proposed plans to pay for the new hospital.
Lawmakers and the Governor say ground is expected to be broken on the new facility in the spring of 2015. Nixon last month announced the selection of a lead design firm for the project.
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.