Six building projects axed, while the governor's MOHELA plan moves to the Senate floor
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Six building projects axed, while the governor's MOHELA plan moves to the Senate floor

Date: February 7, 2007
By: Tina Marie Macias
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 389

JEFFERSON CITY - More than $100 million in research buildings were axed Wednesday when the Senate Education Committee passed an altered version of bill that includes the governor's plan for the sale of the state's loan authority's assets. 

The version that will go before the Senate floor omitted funding of all building projects that could possibly include any embryonic stem-cell research -- that includes two buildings at the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri.

Sen. Gary Nodler's, R-Joplin, bill gives more authority to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and creates a new need-based scholarship program, but will no longer include funding for the business incubator project and the Health Sciences Center project at MU, as well as four other science or technology projects in metropolitan areas across the state -- a total of about $113 million in construction projects.

Gov. Matt Blunt Wednesday said he still supports the funding of all the projects that were outlined in his plan -- and Nodler's original bill -- and expects senators to continue debating on what will receive funding.

"I support the list that we developed in conjunction with the Coordinating Board for Higher Education," he said. "We want to really make this significant at our colleges and universities."

Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, who dominated much of the debate during the committee session, said he doubts the bill will be passed without the six buildings added back into the list of funded projects.

"Well do everything we can to try to add those projects back on the floor," he said. "But obviously it's clear that Missouri Right to Life is driving this train."

He said by removing these projects, any good that might have come out of the governor's plan for the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority sell is ruined.

"These six projects will do more to grow the economy than anything else that's in there," Graham said. "You're not going to grow the economy by building a fine arts center in Maryville."

The University of Missouri's chief spokesperson expressed disappointment. Ô01CAll of these projects are critical and much-needed as the University of Missouri plays a leadership role in serving our citizens and building our stateÔ019s economy," Scott Charton said in a written statement. "We hope the Legislature will restore these projects."

Now the MoHELA plan only include projects in rural areas, said the Senate's Democratic leader -- Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis. Coleman said that removing these projects was a Republican political move and prejudice. All the projects that were eliminated were in Democrat districts.

"Voters in the last election sent a clear message that they want Democrats and Republicans to work together," Coleman said. "The Republicans slapped Missouri voters in the face today while snubbing students in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia. I am sickened by this blatant disregard for the people of Missouri."

Nodler first introduced an altered version of his bill and amended it to include all six buildings that were removed. But when Graham tried to amend the bill to remove restrictions to stem-cell research, and was struck down, the altered and amended version of the bill did not pass committee.

A second version of the bill did not include an amendment to re-introduce the six buildings, but included an amendment that restricted stem-cell research by the current national standard. This version passed with a strict party vote -- four Democrats to six Republicans.

"So if in a week or a month Congress expands research then we would not be able to expand it," Graham said.

The altered bill also allows universities that raise tuition beyond the Midwest Consumer Price Index to have their punishment waived by the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, but Nodler said that might be revised again when it goes before the floor.

"That is a long process that is still being drafted," Nodler said. "We're finding a way that can actually fit with everyone."

Buildings that would be excluded from MoHELA funding under the committee's plan are: