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Missouri lawmakers are starting to fulfill the wish lists for new construction and repair funding by tapping money from the extra federal share of Medicaid the state is receiving due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the University of Missouri, there's $15 million for a new veterinary medicine diagnostic laboratory on the Columbia campus. For Truman State University, there's $4.6 million to finance converting an old elementary school into a center for treating autism and other developmental disabilities.

And for lawmakers, there's almost $1 million for new carpet in the House and Senate chambers.

Several of the new items in the $101 million list of projects approved Monday by the House Budget Committee were pitched two weeks ago to the House Subcommittee on Federal Stimulus Spending. They were added to Gov. Mike Parson's recommendations for capital spending after committee members removed $100 million in general revenue spending for repair and maintenance of state facilities.

The bills approved in the committee are the last three spending bills expected to be passed by the constitutional cutoff date for appropriations of May 7. However, Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said the massive infusion of federal COVID-19 relief bills means lawmakers will be back to write more spending bills, presumably in special sessions this summer.

The money for state facilities, for example, is likely to return in a different form, he said.

"We should explore options at a later time for using federal funding," Smith said.

Missouri expects $2.8 billion in direct aid from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan bill signed by President Joe Biden in March. The state is also slated to receive $195 million for state and local capital spending needs.

While some of that money is starting to flow to the state, little has been included in the operating budget now pending in the state Senate. To fund the projects approved Monday, the committee is using funds that have accumulated from a change to federal Medicaid financing due to the pandemic.

Last year, the federal government increased its share of the Medicaid program by 6.2 percentage points. As of March 30, the state had amassed $470 million from the change, money that can be spent on any state need.

The veterinary lab and the autism center represent two projects sought during the April 12 meeting that would be financed in full. Many of the items fund a portion of the project requested or provide a source of funds for general repair and maintenance needs.

Other items on the list approved Monday include:

- $18 million for deferred maintenance at community colleges around the state.

- $5 million for repairing utility tunnels at Southeast Missouri State University, half the amount requested.

- $8.1 million for various projects in the Capitol, with $4.2 million for plumbing upgrades and $1.2 million to repair the fountain on the south lawn in addition to the new carpets in House and Senate chambers.

At its April 12 meeting, the stimulus subcommittee heard requests for hundreds of millions for state and local projects, ranging from $48 million for infrastructure improvements in Branson and $88 million for a new Missouri State Highway Patrol Academy to $125 million for a 6-mile highway extension in St. Louis County.

During discussion of the new spending, state Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, questioned the amount set aside for Harris-Stowe State University, a historically Black public university. The university is receiving $2 million for deferred maintenance, while other four-year schools received money for specific projects.

During the April 12 hearing, Harris- Stowe President Corey Bradford asked for $48 million for a science, technology, engineering and mathematics education building and $20 million for campuswide deferred maintenance.

How much will be available for the larger projects is yet to be determined, Smith responded to Bosley.

"They have some larger projects they would like to launch into," he noted. "This is an acknowledgement that there are some deferred maintenance needs."

Smith asked Bosley to "wait a while" for the larger amounts and made that point as well about other large requests.

"I understand fully this is not addressing everyone's needs," he said.

The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.

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