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Lobbyist Money Help  

Carnahan Releases Disputed Funds

January 12, 1999
By: David Grebe
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The University of Missouri's construction plans got back on track after Gov. Mel Carnahan released more than $129 million in funds this week. The funds include $6 million towards the completion of Cornell Hall, the future home of M.U.'s College of Business and Public Administration.

Also included are $150,000 in planning funds for a new life sciences center, $400,000 for engineering equipment, and $79,656 for the renovation of Townsend Hall.

Release of the building construction funds was prompted by a state Supreme Court decision last week concerning the amount of tax refunds owed by the state.

"The part we were most concerned about was the funding for Cornell Hall," said Marty Oetting, M.U.'s Director of Governmental Affairs. Oetting said that while private money for the facility had already been raised, the state is expected to pay $18 million out of a total cost of $27.3 million to complete the facility--and the University is requesting another $11.8 million this year.

The projects are part of a $129 million in capital improvements at colleges and universities throughout the state. M.U. got a small portion of the disputed funds: the total includes approximately $23 million each for a facility at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and a library at Southwest Missouri State.

Release of the building construction funds had been held up in response to a lawsuit by former State Auditor Margaret Kelly arguing the state owed Missouri taxpayers a larger tax refund under the Hancock tax lid.

Gov. Mel Carnahan released the funds after a favorable Missouri Supreme Court ruling. Kelly argued that the funds fell under the Missouri's "Hancock Lid," and was being wrongly withheld from Missouri taxpayers.

The dispute arose out of a controversy about admission fees to riverboat casinos. The Carnahan administration says the money from the fees doesn't apply towards the "Hancock Lid" capping state revenues.

The court held that the one-dollar admission fees had been approved by the voters. Voter-approved taxes don't fall under the revenue limits.

"What the Court really means is that they've upheld 99 percent of the calculations of the Office of Administration and dismissed the auditor's complaint," said state Budget Director Mark Ward.

Ward said the the state held back funds for higher education construction because it was the largest one-time expenditure in the state's budget.