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MO ag groups praise Governor’s Rural Growth Plan, legislature may have other plans

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Several of Missouri’s agricultural organizations are praising a plan to use newly available funds to bring more jobs and opportunity to rural Missouri, placing an emphasis on rural broadband, clean water initiatives, and infrastructure improvements to ports.

It’s all part of a new “Rural Growth Plan” announced by Governor Eric Greitens, which seeks to use new funds that are coming to the state from the federal reauthorization of Children’s Health Insurance Program. State funds had been set aside to supplement the possible loss of that federal funding—and the reauthorization creates an unexpected $80 million investment opportunity over the next two fiscal years.

“Missouri’s rural communities have been ignored for too long,” Gov. Eric Greitens stated. “I’m proud to put forward this rural growth plan because I believe Missourians in rural towns across the state need us to invest in and fight for them.”

Here’s a breakdown of the Governor’s proposals as well as statements from several organizations in support of the plan.

On Broadband:

This proposal encourages a $45,000,000 investment in rural broadband over the next two years to bring high-speed internet to businesses and homes without quality access. 

The Governor has proposed allocating $1 million of the funds for a comprehensive mapping project and to produce an estimate of the total cost of bringing broadband to every home and business in Missouri.

The Governor has also proposed creating a “Rural Broadband Matching Fund.” This fund will provide grants to match private investment for new broadband infrastructure. The Department of Economic Development’s Rural Broadband Office would invest in projects that: (1) bring new service that meets the FCC’s current broadband benchmarks into areas that do not have it at all or (2) introduce fiber-optic connections to new areas and (3) are funded primarily by private investment.

Providers that accept grants would do so on the condition that they are subject to a state claw-back of the grant funds if the project fails to produce as much infrastructure/serve as large of an area as the application indicated, to consist of the type of infrastructure the application indicated (e.g., cable instead of fiber-optics), or to provide speeds at the rate the application indicated.

Blake Hurst, President, Missouri Farm Bureau: “This is a big day for Missourians—both rural and urban. We applaud Governor Greitens’ commitment to investing in infrastructure that will yield benefits for years to come. These funds will lead to partnerships that improve the quality of life for citizens in every part of the state and provide vast new economic opportunities in the areas that need it most.”

Dan Mehan, Missouri Chamber of Commerce: “The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry enthusiastically supports this bold and meaningful one-time infrastructure investment proposed by Gov. Eric Greitens. Broadband build-out is essential for the entire State of Missouri to create jobs and economic opportunities in the 21st Century. Likewise, this investment in Missouri’s ports will bolster many industries in the state that utilize our unique access to these waterways. We also applaud the governor’s plan to ensure communities in our state have access to clean water. This multifaceted approach is a major step toward modernizing and strengthening Missouri’s infrastructure. These needs were readily identified in Missouri 2030, our long-range, business-driven strategic plan for the State of Missouri.”

Barry Hart, Executive VP & CEO of Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives: “The Governor’s investment in rural growth will provide economic revitalization to communities around the state. Through the Rural Growth Proposal, Missouri’s often-forgotten rural populations will see more jobs and economic development. We will work hand-in-hand with the Greitens’ administration to ensure this proposal comes to fruition.”

Don Nikodim, Executive Director, Missouri Pork Association: “Governor Greitens’ newly proposed investments in statewide broadband and infrastructure initiatives will invigorate Missouri’s rural economy. We applaud the Greitens administration’s efforts to bring jobs and economic growth to our rural communities.”

On Water Initiatives:

This proposal recommends $17,665,000 for water initiatives—to build the necessary infrastructure to ensure clean water access in rural communities and attract more jobs to these areas.

· Little Otter Creek – $4,000,000
· Tri-State-Stockton Lake – $330,000
· St. Robert Waste Water Treatment – $3,335,000
· Multipurpose Water Resources Program – $10,000,000

Rick Gardner, Chairman, North Central Missouri Regional Water Commission: “The announcement of water infrastructure funds comes as great news to the Commission and to the ten counties we propose to serve from the East Locust Creek Reservoir.  North Central Missouri has suffered under the threat of drought for decades. Placing this much funding toward water infrastructure and our project is the most significant commitment that the State has made in decades. We are all grateful to the Greitens Administration, his Departments and to our many friends in the General Assembly who have listened to us, cheered us on and, once again, step to the fore to provide us real assistance.”

Randy Railsback, Executive Director, Green Hills Regional Planning Commission: “This is a great day for those who have worked for decades to bring attention to current and impending water shortages in Missouri…and it comes in the midst of a drought. Green Hills has been a part of both the East Locust Creek and the Little Otter Creek project that will help tens of thousands of Missourians.  This announcement represents a real and tangible step toward solving the water shortages in Missouri that so many of us have advocated for. We are grateful to the Greitens Administration, his Departments and to the General Assembly.”

Brad Scott, General Manager, North Central Missouri Regional Water Commission: “The East Locust Creek Reservoir project has benefitted from bi-partisan support of this desperately needed project over the past few years, but this announcement of standing-up and funding the Multi-purpose Water Resources Fund shows far-sighted leadership that will have a lasting impact on Missouri. Every door to the Greitens Administration has been opened to us and we are grateful to him and to his outstanding team. The East Locust project has also benefitted from outstanding support and leadership from the General Assembly over the past few years and we are so grateful to them.”

On Ports:

Missouri’s waterways allow businesses to move cargo, particularly agricultural products, and offer tremendous economic potential to rural towns. Infrastructure investments in ports allow Missouri to export more goods and create more jobs here in the state. The Governor has proposed allocating $14,320,464 to priority port projects around the state. Those priority investments would be focused on Pike Lincoln, St. Joseph, Howard Cooper, New Madrid, St. Louis City, Jefferson County, Pemiscot County, and Kansas City ports.

Ralph Martin, Vice President of the Missouri Port Authorities Association and Director, Lewis County Port Authority: “The Missouri Port Authorities Association is thrilled with the latest announcement coming from the Governor’s office. Funding in excess of $14 million dollars to provide infrastructure improvements to Ports throughout the state of Missouri, on both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers will be a wonderful boost to projects that in some cases are already underway, but need a little help to finish. The projects outlined by MPAA at Pike Lincoln, St. Joseph, Howard Cooper, New Madrid, St. Louis City, Jefferson County, Pemiscot County, and Kansas City will have a great economic impact on the regions where these ports are located and the pay back to the State of Missouri will be ongoing for years to come.”

On Biodiesel Funds

The Governor also recommends allocating $3,000,000 to satisfy outstanding obligations to the Missouri Qualified Biodiesel Producer Incentive Fund.

C. Brooks Hurst, President, Missouri Soybean Association: “Missouri has always been right up front in biodiesel, and payment of the state’s debt to the Missouri Qualified Biodiesel Producer Incentive Fund is an important step forward for farmers. We appreciate Governor Greitens’ showing his support of Missouri’s farmers and biodiesel with this budget recommendation, and will continue working with our leaders in Jefferson City for full payoff of that outstanding debt this year.”

What the Legislature is saying:

While the new funds could be used for such things, the Missouri House Budget Committee has been eyeballing those same funds as the solution to restoring the higher education cuts made by the Governor in the budget.

Sen. Dan Brown, the Senate Appropriations chairman, also stated that he believed it should be used to address things he views as a crisis in the budget, which he said education funding should be defined as. When asked if he would be willing to go “toe-to-toe” with the second floor in order to ensure that education is fully funded, he responded that he would be “willing to go toe-to-toe with anyone.”