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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Missouri decides how to spend stimulus money

The money could be used to repair roads and move the State Historical Society.

A semi trailer passes over the Columbia Terminal Short Line Railroad tracks on U.S. Hwy. 63 north of Columbia on Thursday. A $9 million bridge has been proposed and would elevate the railroad over the highway, eliminating the need for the high-speed traffic to stop for passing trains.

Erik Haugsby/Senior Staff Photographer

Nikki Cassingham, of Oklahoma City, waits for her flight to depart from the Columbia Regional Airport. The airport could receive more than $6 million in federal stimulus money for runway rehabilitation, additions to increase passenger capacity and new emergency response vehicles.

Erik Haugsby/Senior Staff Photographer

Erik Haugsby/Senior Staff Photographer Columbia Police Department squad cars are parked in the department's garage at Fifth and Walnut streets. CPD is trying to determine whether to add two new police cruisers or four new officers, at costs of $80,000 and $250,000 respectively, with federal stimulus money.

Erik Haugsby/Senior Staff Photographer

Cars pass under Highway WW while driving on U.S. Hwy. 63 south of Columbia, one of several local interchanges targeted for infrastructure improvements with stimulus money.

Erik Haugsby/Senior Staff Photographer
Megan Stroup/Graphic Designer

Feb. 27, 2009

Before the state can take advantage of the $4.3 billion it will receive from the federal stimulus plan, lawmakers have to decide the best way to use the money.

The state received $233 million Thursday, its first installment of that money. Those funds will stay in a special state account until lawmakers decide the best ways to use the money.

This money has the least restrictions that the state will receive, so it could see wide use.

Gov. Jay Nixon sought the opinions of Missouri residents through a Web site, transform.mo.gov, where citizens can submit their proposals for how the stimulus money should be distributed.

The Web site has been up for less than a week, but it has already received more than 1,000 proposals, Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said.

"The ideas shouldn't just be limited to coming from within the state government," Holste said. "We want to hear from individuals, businesses and non-profit organizations to put the best ideas forward, create jobs and turn the economy around."

Nixon has included $809 million in his recommendations for the 2010 fiscal year budget, Holste said. Ultimately, the General Assembly will have the final say how the money is appropriated.

"The governor laid out his priorities for the next fiscal year in his State of the State address," Holste said.

These priorities include fully funding K-12 education, keeping funding for public two-year and four-year institutions the same, extending health insurance to more children and using the programs that have been proven to work to create jobs so more Missourians can get back to work, Holste said.

During his State of the State address, Nixon outlined his budget priorities in light of the stimulus money the state is expected to receive.

"The ideas in the House are to use the one-time stimulus money to fund one-time projects and to send some of the money received back to the Missouri taxpayers," House Budget Chairman Allen Icet said. "As you can tell both concepts need a lot of work to develop the details."

Columbia area representatives are also fighting to make sure Columbia gets its piece of the stimulus money.

Columbia Rep. Chris Kelly is the ranking Democrat on the budget committee. The budget committee will draft the bills on how to appropriate the money from the stimulus package to projects across the state.

"We'll get pretty serious about that next week," Kelly said. "I don't know when we'll get done, but we'll get serious about working through the bills in budget next week."

Kelly said the committee has already worked on the emergency and supplemental bill and will begin floor work on the regular budget in the next week.

Kelly said several projects on the university campus would be extremely vital to economic development in the city.

Some of these projects include the state cancer hospital and maintenance at Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center, as well as other buildings on the campus.

"The university needs a lot of repair and maintenance," Kelly said.

The stimulus could also support projects at the MU Life Science Business Incubator, a facility off of Providence Road where businesses can go to get help with research for various projects.

"If we fund that, there is a greater chance of economic success, which will benefit the state," Kelly said.

Kelly also noted the road improvements at U.S. 63 could be very important for economic development.

Another of Columbia's state representatives, Mary Still, is also very interested in how the bill can impact projects in Columbia.

"This bill was tailor-made for Columbia," Still said.

Still said there are questions as to how the distribution process will happen.

She said other possibilities are for science and technology grants, Medicaid reimbursements and a new historical society building. Right now, the historical society is located in Ellis Library.

"The historical building in Ellis Library is a place with incredible resources and potential," Still said. "If we can get that figured out and take some stimulus money for that, it would be a win-win project."

This project would help to restore art that needs to be protected and would also free up space in Ellis.

Still also said it would be ideal to use some of the money for maintenance to roads and buildings on campus.

She referenced comments by UM system President Gary Forsee when he said the campus could have safety issues if maintenance delays continue.

Federal stimulus plan draws criticism

When it comes to the economic stimulus plan, Roxanne Kueser, a junior marketing student, is skeptical.

"I don't think it's a very good idea," Kueser said. "Money doesn't mean anything to anyone anymore. It is just numbers. I don't think it is going to work as well as the government planned."

Across the country $780 billion will be distributed to help boost the U.S. economy. The new law combines tax cuts with extensive spending on infrastructure relief, with a specific emphasis on state spending.

The federal government will fund the stimulus plan by borrowing money, which could worsen the country's budget deficit, but President Barack Obama and supporters of the plan say it will also create new jobs and, in the long run, aid the struggling economy.

States have requested funding for a variety of projects. Proposed projects include street repairs, low-income housing construction, home weatherization and public safety measures.

With those projects come thousands of jobs that could help bolster the country's struggling economy.

Since the passage of the stimulus package there has been criticism from both sides of the aisle. Few people have recommended alternative suggestions that could practically work.

When it comes to what exactly the government should do to fix the economy, though, Kueser is unsure.

"I honestly couldn't tell you," Kueser said.

Karen Schnatterly, assistant professor in the Trulaske College of Business, is also skeptical about the federal stimulus plan.

"The people who got us into this mess are the people who will be getting us out," she said. "It's like asking us to grade our own papers or tests."

Schnatterly said that even if Missouri and the rest of the country fare well, this economic downturn has serious implications worldwide.

"The recession is a global problem," Schnatterly said. "If the U.S. invests to pull out of it, and other countries are not, we are spitting into the wind."

Columbia hopes new projects create jobs from stimulus funds

Last year, when the U.S. House and Senate first began to discuss a possible stimulus bill, the U.S. Conference of Mayors was asked to come up with a list of projects that were shovel-ready, or ready to go, in their cities.

The result: almost 19,000 individual projects in 779 cities across the country.

Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman said the mayors' report was not a wish list. Instead, it measured projects that could qualify with this money.

"We all have to remember they are not just sending money out to the state," Hindman said. "They are sending us money to create jobs. They are trying to meet a national emergency to create jobs and create a sustainable future."

Columbia developing projects according to the rules and guidelines of federal agencies, assistant city manager Hertwig Hopkins said. Many of these guidelines have not been released.

"The projects are all vital to the city and we're going to be submitting requests wherever dollars are available," Hopkins said. "Most of the money is coming through state agencies, which don't yet have directions as to what the rules are going to be."

The city has been monitoring the stimulus package since it was first discussed back in October and November, Hopkins said.

"When the applications come forth and we're given the go ahead, we'll be ready to go," Hopkins said.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe is excited about several of the potential projects for Columbia, particularly the possibility of a new farmer's market pavilion to be built near the Columbia Activity and Recreation Center. This project would create 40 additional jobs.

"It's sort of a security issue in terms of producing food close to your locality and healthy foods," Hoppe said. "In terms of economic growth, people look at a community and if they don't have a farmer's market, they aren't considered a full-service community."

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala also said he was excited about the potential for a new farmer's market.

"If that happens, that would be really good for the city," Skala said.

Another of the bigger projects for Columbia is the construction of a railroad overpass near U.S. 63. The estimated cost of the project is $9 million.

Hindman said the railroad crossing was dangerous because there had been numerous accidents at the stop. Special carriers, such as school buses and gas tankers, must stop at the crossing regardless of an approaching train. Last year, there was a three-car collision, and in 2007 a motorist died when his car ran into the back of a stopped gasoline truck. Skala said he is enthusiastic about this traffic safety project as the railroad crossing site in question falls within the boundaries of his ward.

Hindman emphasized that Columbia would receive only minimal control over any transportation funds the city received because the state department of transportation was deciding what the priorities were around the state.

Every year the city gets community development block grants that can be used for affordable housing, anti-poverty programs and infrastructure development, among other projects. The grants are geared towards low- and moderate-income communities.

"We're expecting them to waive that requirement in connection to the stimulus," Hindman said.

There will be some money allocated to Columbia Regional Airport as well. Hindman said extending or replacing the main runway was one of their priorities. "The runway is getting to be 50 years old," he said. "We want it for bigger airplanes, and the old runway cannot handle the weight of these new heavy planes. If we were really fortunate we might be able to get that."

Essential Air Service, a government program, currently subsidizes the airport.

Other projects Hoppe said she was excited about were the weatherization of public buildings, the purchase of nine new city buses, addition of low-income public housing, crime prevention measures and increase of Pell Grants.

"The stimulus bill requires that cities follow a specific formula and some of the funding is competitive beyond that," Skala said. "The devil is going to be in the details."

Hoppe said the city is well prepared to deal with the requirements to obtain federal funding.

"The city is really well-organized and we're used to meeting requirements for different federal projects, so we're in good shape on being able to start the projects," Hoppe said.

While the economic picture has been bleak elsewhere, Hoppe said Columbia is in a good place.

"The city has a 16 percent reserve fund," Hoppe said. "We've saved money in the good years so that we can have a cushion for tough years."

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