Representative Jeanie Riddle cautiously optimistic about funding for Fulton State Hospital

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon greets lawmakers as he walks into the House chamber to deliver the annual State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Jefferson City, Mo.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon greets lawmakers as he walks into the House chamber to deliver the annual State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Jefferson City, Mo. Photo by The Associated Press.

Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, said she’s glad Gov. Jay Nixon addressed the funding needs of Fulton State Hospital in his State of the State address Tuesday, but she’s still concerned that the funding won’t be there.

“The governor has had to withhold millions of dollars every year, and now has proposed a budget that is based on a revenue estimate that’s 2 percent higher than an estimate agreed upon,” she said. “I just want to make sure Missourians are aware of the facts.”

Fulton State Hospital is Missouri’s only maximum security psychiatric facility and has provided care since 1851.

Nixon said it’s “crumbling and in desperate need of replacement.”

“It’s inadequate to the needs of patients,” he said. “It’s dangerous for the staff who care for them, and it’s an embarrassment to our state.”

He said it’s time for the state to take action because interest rates are low and the state’s credit rating is high.

“That’s why I look forward to working with you to address this most urgent of needs and issue bonds to support the construction of a new mental hospital in Fulton,” Nixon said.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, agrees with Nixon that now is the best time to issue bonds.

“I do agree with him that interest rates are at historic lows, and now’s the best time to do it,” Dempsey said.

Riddle said it’s important for lawmakers to do what is most fiscally responsible for Missourians.

“We’re looking at just under $200 million for Fulton State Hospital,” Riddle said. “That’s a lot of money. Even though it does serve every community in the state, we have to be responsible and ethical about it.”

Nixon released $11 million in December for the planning and design process of a new hospital. The money was withheld from his budget earlier in 2013. The remainder of the project would come from bonds.

According to State Budget Director Linda Luebbering, construction on the new Fulton State Hospital would begin in spring 2015, but she’s not sure how long construction would last.

After Nixon’s speech, Fulton Mayor LeRoy Benton said he’s heard talk about a new Fulton facility for nearly 20 years.

Like Riddle, he also has concerns about funding for the hospital.

“Our only concern is that the governor says funding is there, but it’s our understanding that the legislature may have a different perspective,” Benton said. “I hope to see both sides rise above and get it done.

“There’s no question of need, just how to get it done.”

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