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Chamber of Commerce evaluates success, unfinished work at state Capitol

As the legislative session comes to a close in the next few weeks, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce is starting to evaluate what its been able to accomplish in the past several months.

In the fall, the chamber laid out a list of state priorities it would like to focus on for the session. You can find the list of those priorities here.

Many of those priorities highlighted securing funding for several University of Missouri projects. But according to Governmental Affairs Committee member Jerry Dowell, who travels to the Capitol weekly to talk with legislators, those projects will be among the chamber’s unfinished business this session.

“In a tough budget year, you maybe miss out on some funding,” he said.

Dowell said he anticipates the cuts ending up at about 7 or 8 percent across the board for higher education, but despite the cuts, the chamber will most likely continue to educate legislators about the University of Missouri’s economic importance to Columbia.

“They’ll always be at the top of the list,” he said.

But the chamber was able to secure $5 million in funding for the Columbia Regional Airport’s terminal project. Now that legislators will be finalizing that budget in the next few weeks, Dowell said it’s crucial for chamber leaders to make sure the funding stays there.

“If you’re not front and center all the time and continually reminding people how important your project is, you’re going to be forgotten,” he said.

Dowell said the local delegation has worked across party lines to help educate about and fund some of the chamber’s priorities. He said local leaders are also working together better than they have in a while and it has allowed them to present a more unified front with one voice in Jefferson City.

“I think it’s been helpful with some of the turnover that’s happened,” he said. “That kind of changes the dynamic a little bit.”

Chamber leaders are also working on allowing Columbia Public Schools and the city of Columbia to talk about pooling transportation resources because CPS could see cuts to transportation after the budget is finalized.

“If we could provide a solution that doesn’t cost any more money and actually save the school district money, it’s something we should look at,” he said.

Dowell said he is disappointed that more progress wasn’t made in the realm of transportation in general, but he said they will wait and see what the Trump administration plans to do about it on a federal level.

“We want to prepare ourselves to be able to receive federal funding when it comes through,” he said. “Let’s check every box that we can to make sure we’re part of that funding stream.”

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