A $10 million appropriation in the state budget — pending Gov. Mike Parson's approval — could help fund renovations to the Springfield Art Museum. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

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A state budget that was finalized behind closed doors and approved in the 11th hour by the Missouri General Assembly includes funding for several major projects and programs in and around Springfield.

The appropriations awaiting Gov. Mike Parson’s approval — or veto — include $727.5 million for improvements to Interstate 44, long-sought dollars for LeCompte Road, $15 million between the Springfield Art Museum and the Landers Theatre, $2 million for a nonprofit-owned firing range for Greene County deputies.

The budget was largely finalized in private negotiations between House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield.

I-44, LeCompte could see funding after 2023 vetoes

A year after Parson signed off on a $2.8 billion appropriation to expand and rebuild Interstate 70, I-44 got some serious attention in the state legislature.

The legislature’s spending plan includes $727.5 million to expand and improve stretches of I-44 in Springfield, Joplin and Rolla. In 2023, the governor vetoed $28 million for improvements to the I-44 and Kansas Expressway interchange, but approved $20 million for an environmental study of I-44.

I-44 at the Kansas Expressway interchange at 5 p.m. on March 25, 2022. (Photo by Bruce Stidham, Stidz Media)

The legislature’s $727.5 million appropriation would fund those interchange improvements, which include a flyover for traffic traveling southbound on Kansas Expressway onto eastbound eastbound I-44, remove the diverging diamond and tunnel Norton Road under Kansas Expressway.

LeCompte Road (shown in red) runs just east of U.S. Highway 65 (shown in blue) and serves the industrial sites on and around the Springfield Underground. LeCompte connects Kearney Street and Division Street (shown in yellow). (Illustration by Rance Burger, overlaid on map from Greene County Assessor's Office)

Funding for improvements to LeCompte Road in northeast Springfield was also vetoed by Parson in 2023 due to an error that inflated the requested $3.4 million to $34 million.

This year’s budget includes the $3.4 million, which will help fund improvements to the LeCompte and Division Street intersection, and widen the road to handle traffic demands of the Springfield Underground and surrounding industrial development.

Springfield sports, arts scene in line for funding

Springfield’s arts scene could also get a boost from the state budget. A $10 million appropriation could help fund renovations to the Springfield Art Museum. The total project cost is estimated at $49.75 million, and is currently $38 million underfunded. The Springfield City Council is slated to vote on a $26 million bond package to fund a host of projects, including renovations to the Springfield Art Museum, on June 3.

The budget also includes $5 million for the Springfield Little Theatre, to help fund renovations at the Landers Theatre and the Judith Enyeart Reynolds School of the Performing Arts, enhance accessibility and grow the programs offered by the nonprofit.

Exterior photo of the Historic Landers Theatre
The Missouri General Assembly's spending plan includes $5 million for the Springfield Little Theatre. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

“We're waiting on the governor to sign [the budget] but we're, of course, extremely thankful for the leadership and the government for even considering supporting the Springfield Little Theatre and Landers community,” Springfield Little Theatre Board President Corey Kilburn told the Hauxeda.

Amid ongoing improvements to the Cooper Park and Sports Complex, the state budget could further invest in youth sports in Springfield, with $5 million for the renovation and expansion of soccer facilities.

A line of young boys with blue jerseys walk onto the grass at Hammons Field.
A $3.5 million appropriation in the state budget could close the gap for a walking path around Hammons Field. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

For the second year in a row, the state budget includes funding for Hammons Field. While part of this year’s $3.5 million appropriation is carryover from 2023, when Springfield was awarded $4 million to make Major League Baseball-mandated improvements to the ballpark, the earmark could also help close the gap of the walking path around the stadium.

Funding for firing range, Alliance for Health Care Education

The Greene County Sheriff’s Office, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department and a new health care-focused education program could all receive funding from the legislature's spending plan.

The budget includes a $2 million appropriation to help fund the construction of a firing range in Fair Grove. The training facility is being built by Sheriff Arnott’s Distinguished Posse, a nonprofit led by Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott, but will be used by Greene County deputies and other law enforcement agencies.

The law enforcement firing range will be located on part of a 112-acre piece of property northeast of the Interstate 44/Highway 125 interchange in Strafford. (Greene County Assessor's Office GIS map illustrated by Rance Burger)

After the project was awarded $500,000 in ARPA funds from the Greene County Commission, Arnott estimated an additional $1.4 million would be needed to fully fund the construction of the facility, which was originally scheduled for completion in August 2023.

Arnott told the Daily Citizen that the $2 million appropriation, if approved by Parson, should cover the “majority of the project,” including the training building itself, and attributed the increase from the original cost estimates to inflation.

The Health Department is in line for $1 million for Family Connects, a new program that provides newborns and mothers at-home visits from registered nurses.

From left, Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Grenita Lathan, Missouri State University President Clif Smart, CoxHealth CEO Max Buetow and Ozarks Technical Community College Chancellor Hal Higdon announce the formation of the Alliance for Health Care Education Aug. 29, 2023. (Photo by David Stoeffler)

The budget also includes funding for various Springfield nonprofits, $15 million for the Alliance for Health Care Education to renovate existing classroom space at Cox College, and a host of other projects and programs.

House Democrats at odds with budget process

The state legislature also approved a 3.2% pay raise for state employees, $33 million to raise the base teacher salary to $40,000, a 3% increase in core funding for state colleges and $8 million for state troops to help secure the country’s southern border — in addition to the $2.2 million Parson approved last week.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, speaks during the state budget debate May 9, 2024, in the Missouri Senate. (Photo by Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

While most of the legislature’s 16 spending bills relied on Democratic support in the state Senate due to opposition from a handful of hard-line Republicans, many House Democrats were unhappy with the final product that was largely finalized in private negotiations between House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield.

Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade was one of those Democrats. She expressed disappointment with cuts to services for people with developmental disabilities and child care subsidies, while appreciative of funding for Springfield nonprofits and Missouri State University.

Democratic State Representative and Missouri House Minority-Leader Crystal Quade. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

“It is no secret that so many of us in leadership positions or important budget positions are from Springfield, and I am grateful for all we have been able to accomplish for our great city,” Quade told the Daily Citizen in an email.

In a press release, Hough commended the Senate’s quick work and touted engagement with people around the state.

“The Senate was happy to follow the governor’s vision of securing the southern border, supporting first responders, rebuilding our infrastructure and training future workforces,” Hough said. “These priorities have remained our primary focus through these negotiations, and will make a lasting impact for decades to come.”

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Hauxeda. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at jmcgee@hauxeda.com or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee