Missouri governor releases money for buildings

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Gov. Jay Nixon gave the go-ahead Friday to spend $132 million on improvements to state facilities, including a long-delayed waterproofing at Missouri’s century-old Capitol building.

The Democratic governor cited an improving economy as a reason why he was releasing the money he had frozen when the state’s 2014 budget took effect eight months ago. Republican legislative leaders had contented there was no reason for the budget freeze, because the state ended last fiscal year with more money than it had expected.

The money includes $28.5 million for repairs at the state Capitol, which has been plagued by water leaks in the basement. State budget director Linda Luebbering said part of the money also will be used for stonework repair on the Capitol dome.

As passed by lawmakers, the budget also included $38 million “for planning, design and construction of a state office building, including space for and renovation of the Missouri Department of Transportation Central Office.”

Many lawmakers had envisioned the construction of a new state office building, which could house the transportation agency and free up its current headquarters just east of the Capitol. Some people who currently work in the Capitol then could be shifted to the old transportation building, and the Capitol could be renovated to remove a double deck of offices on its first floor that currently are used by some House members. Besides being crowded, some offices are not easily accessible to the disabled.

But Nixon’s administration doesn’t plan to use the money to construct a new building. Instead, the $38 million would be used to renovate existing structures, at least one of which could become the new headquarters for the Transportation Department.

“We think we have enough square footage. It’s just making what we already have more efficient space,” Luebbering said.

Office of Administration Commissioner Doug Nelson said the goal of the office shuffling still is to free up space in the Capitol.

“There are obviously some needs here to try to make the working space better, more effective,” Nelson said. “I think everyone that I’ve spoken with has expressed concerns regarding the mezzanine offices on the first floor.”

The money released Friday includes $53 million for maintenance and repairs at facilities across the state and $12.5 million for improvements at state parks.

Nixon originally withheld $400 million of budgeted expenditures last summer, including money for the operating budgets of public schools and universities. But he released over half of that money after lawmakers failed in September to override his veto of an income tax cut.

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