Higher revenues lead Missouri governor to release funds

By Marie French, Associated Press | Posted - Apr 3rd, 2015 @ 3:51pm

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon released $43 million Friday for various programs that he'd previously held back, citing improved state general revenue collections in March.

The money will be distributed toward state building repairs, technology startups and university programs. It also includes $5.8 million for basic aid and Internet access for Missouri's public libraries.

Regina Cooper, executive director at Springfield-Greene County Library District, said she shouted about its portion of the $3.1 million specifically for Internet access so loudly the entire floor heard her. The countywide system has many branch locations in rural areas, where Internet access can be hard to come by.

"Many of our patrons don't have fast enough Internet access at their homes in rural areas ... or they don't have computers so they come in to use our computers to apply for jobs and to apply for government services that are moving more and more online," Cooper said. "This is very important in the day to day life of our patrons."

Other funds released include $7 million for the Missouri Technology Corporation, a public-private partnership to promote entrepreneurship and fund technology startups; $5 million for critical repair and maintenance needs of state buildings; $3.5 million to enhance the security of state data systems and $5.3 million for a Springfield partnership to expand the University of Missouri's medical school.

Nixon held back the money to balance this fiscal year's budget — a constitutional responsibility the governor has power to do. As the state gets more money from lawsuits or increased tax revenue, he has released some that had been held back, though $400 million is still restricted.

Republican lawmakers have criticized the governor's fund restrictions, particularly from priority programs for which legislators overrode Nixon's veto. The tension was exacerbated because the governor and lawmakers did not agree on an estimate for how much state revenues would increase this fiscal year.

Lawmakers used a higher number than Nixon proposed — a move he has consistently said put the budget millions of dollars out of balance. General revenues would have to increase over last year by about 10 percent to hit the legislative projections.

Last month, revenues increased from March 2014 by 25 percent, bringing the year-to-date increase to 6.8 percent. Budget director Linda Luebbering said part of the difference is due to a lawsuit settlement and other one-time changes but mainly it was a good month for collections.

"As Missouri's economy continues to pick up steam, state revenues are reflecting this positive trend," Nixon said. "More folks are getting back to work, meaning more funding for key priorities that will move our state forward."

One Republican senator who's called for the governor to release funds for improvements to state ports said he was pleased by the release $3 million for those projects. Sen. Paul Wieland, from Imperial, represents a district that includes the Jefferson County Port Authority.

"Today, the governor has shown real leadership in releasing these funds and clearing the way for our ports to bring much-needed jobs and economic activity to the Show-Me State," Wieland said in a statement.

The additional money for an MU School of Medicine clinical campus in Springfield means the full $10 million appropriated for that program is now available; half was released in February. The expansion means additional capacity for 32 medical students.

"It will allow this project to continue in an effort to provide critical additional physicians for Missouri, especially rural Missouri," University of Missouri System spokesman John Fougere said.

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Marie French

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