by Mavis Chan Missouri News Network
A Senate committee decided to defund the Rock Island Trail Monday, May 2, cutting $70 million the House of Representatives set aside for it. Instead, the committee gave $31 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to the Thompson Center, an autism center at the University of Missouri School of Medicine.
Rock Island Trail
The Rock Island Trail is a proposed 144-mile trail of the Rock Island Corridor that would complement the Katy Trail, according to a news release from the Department of Natural Resources. Its funding for fiscal year 2023 was supported by Gov. Mike Parson and the House of Representatives.
Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, who supported cutting the trail’s funding, believed the money should go to “deferred maintenance” of state parks.
“I believe in taking care of what you have before you start adding new things,” he said.
He also said the property owners he spoke with along the proposed trail did not like the way the land was being handled.
“I would say by and large they see this as a property grab,” he said.
Mac McNally, president for Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc., which “seeks to preserve the Rock Island corridor as a linear park,” according to its website, said he was “very disappointed” by the committee’s decision.
He said his organization would continue to advocate for funding and the completion of the trail by speaking directly to legislators. He said the trail would lead to more businesses for the 23 small towns it would pass through.
“My hope is that the governor’s office reiterates to the Missouri state legislature that this is one of his premier projects. In fact, many people across Missouri can benefit from funding this trail,” McNally said.
Thompson Center
The Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at MU is one of six medical centers specializing in autism in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Mental Health. Apart from treating autism, the Thompson Center also carries out research on neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as training programs for MU medical students and adults with autism.
Another budget bill already passed by the Senate promised to give $12 million to statewide autism education programs.
Stephen Sheinkopf, executive director for the center, said the proposed money, if approved, would be used to build additional infrastructure, such as office spaces.
“Right now, our growth in numbers of people is constrained by the size of our building,” he said.
He added that the center was short on places for its staff to see patients.
“If we’re gonna double the number of evaluations that we do each year,” he said, “we need the space to do that.”
Funding overview
Compared to the House, the Senate committee increased funding significantly for the education departments, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Economic Development.
The committee mainly reduced funding to the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state’s law enforcement agencies. The committee also slashed major funding to the Department of Transportation, which oversees road work projects in the state.
The bill passed by the committee will next go to the Senate floor for debate and other amendments. The legislature has to pass the state budget by Friday, May 13, according to Missouri law.