Missouri Lawmakers Argue Over Joplin Relief Fund
JEFFERSON CITY Mo. (MDN) — Nearly two years after the devastation of a tornado in Joplin, lawmakers went over options Wednesday for funds to help rebuild destroyed sidewalks in the area.
The legislation put forth by Sen. John Lamping, R- St. Louis County, would take money from four separate funds and sweep them into a fund that the Office of Administration would have authority over distributing to Joplin over a period of two years. Lamping said the separate funds that the money would come from are not currently being used and they are unrelated to relief efforts. Lamping said Joplin needs $15 million for the relief proposed in the legislation. He said if over $15 million is collected from the funds then the excess would be sent to general revenue.
The money would go to replacing the curbs and gutters damaged by the tornado.
Sen. Rob Schaff, R-St. Joseph, said he didn’t know what constitutionality there is behind putting money into just one area of the state.
“A tornado that tears down my house is just as severe for me as the tornado in Joplin that tears down each individual persons house,” Schaaf said. “How is it that we justify doing something that is absolutely limited to one area of the state? Should this be open to the whole state?”
Lamping responded by saying that the money is otherwise unused and said if the state has the money to help the area, then it should.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, had a similar issue with the bill and offered an amendment that would allow the entire state to qualify for the disaster relief.
The amendment was adopted after lawmakers agreed that it would help the bill by not limiting the money necessarily to the Joplin tornado. Lamping said this amendment also alleviated the fear of the legislation being unconstitutional by not limiting the money to only one area of the state.
Lawmakers also struggled to find middle ground on where the money for the fund would come from.
Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryland, proposed using money from the state’s general revenue because he said he thinks”sweeping” money from other funds is bad public policy. Lager faced opposition from other senators, such as Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who said he doesn’t understand why multiple lawmakers think there is enough money in the budget to spend on things over one million dollars.
“This is the first year of having our head above water,” Schaefer said. “The concept of requesting a million dollars is absurd in this budget.”
Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, brought the idea of a sales tax increase to the floor, which was quickly shut down by Republican lawmakers like Sen. Ryan Silvey, R- Kansas City.
Referring to the state’s “rainy day” fund, which allows the governor to allocate funds for disaster relief, Silvey said establishing a new tax for a new fund “seems like overkill.”
Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said the legislation is a team effort between senators, and he said he is very happy to see the support of the bill.
“Sen. Lamping and also Sen. Schaefer, the budget chairman, put together this program,” Richard said. “I was kind of in the back door because I didn’t want senators or the state of Missouri to think I was doing something that would benefit me personally, or me as a senator from Joplin.”
The Senate gave first-round approval to the bill. The legislation requires one more affirmative vote before it can go to the House.
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