By Eli Yokley
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
The Missouri Senate passed legislation Thursday that would provide Joplin with more than $15 million for tornado redevelopment projects.
The legislation passed the chamber 34-0 and now heads to the House of Representatives for debate next week.
Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis, sponsored the bill. Lamping said he first visited Joplin earlier this year at the request of Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and his wife.
“After all this time, it is still very apparent what has transpired,” Lamping said. “Away from an initial surge, the state has not expended any monies in this regard.”
Thursday’s vote on Lamping’s bill was not the first time lawmakers have considered funding for Joplin’s recovery from the 2011 tornado. Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, said that since the storm, lawmakers have considered making the tornado zone a state tax increment financing district as a way to finance recovery projects, but the issue kept getting hung up because of opposition to those types of tax proposals.
“They had to talk about it quite a bit,” Flanigan said. “It wasn’t a slam-dunk, but you don’t want anything to be a slam-dunk. You want people to talk about it.”
Richard, an original supporter of the TIF legislation, said he was happy with the Senate’s legislative language.
“The TIF was a 23-year project, and there wasn’t a lot of support for that,” he said. “The value of money is more important now than 23 years from now.”
Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr said of the Senate action: “We appreciate the Senate’s ongoing support of our recovery efforts. Sen. Richard and his colleagues have been diligently pursuing ways to provide resources to our city to enable our rebuilding.”
The bill the Senate passed restricts the funding to be used only inside the tornado zone.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis, added an amendment that would allow any future funds appropriated to the bill’s Rebuild Damaged Infrastructure Program to be used to rebuild from future disasters in other parts of the state.
“I don’t want to address one place, but not the other,” she said. “I feel that it is appropriate to cover the entire state so we don’t ignore one part or the other.”
Additionally, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles, added an amendment that would sweep $500,000 from the Department of Revenue to fund a poison control center.
The overall bill was supported by the city of Joplin, as well as Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, the city’s contracted master development firm. Representatives of both traveled to Jefferson City earlier this year to testify in favor of the proposal because — as Wallace Bajjali CEO David Wallace said at the time — they thought they would “be better off with the grant of $15 million.”
The city of Joplin approved a local TIF district that encompasses the tornado zone, as well as much of the central and northern sections of the city, to raise money to issue bonds that will finance part of $806 million in redevelopment projects. The TIF district is expected to generate $57 million.
SEN. RON RICHARD, of Joplin, the majority floor leader in the body, said he left the bill in the hands of Sen. John Lamping and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer in order to remove any “sense of impropriety” that he might be using his leadership position to ram through special funding for his district.