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Nov. 15, 2012 Volume 34, No. 13

Prop B failure won’t stop expansion plans, medical school officials say

Missouri voters on Nov. 6 blocked the fast track to an expanded MU School of Medicine and clinical campus in Springfield, Mo. But officials remain committed to finding funding for the project. 

By a 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent margin, voters rejected a statewide referendum known as Proposition B that would have increased the state cigarette tax from 17 cents to 90 cents per pack. 

Thirty percent of the estimated $283 million annually raised from the tax would have gone to public higher education, with about a quarter of that landing at MU. The money would have jumpstarted the School of Medicine project, which calls for a 33 percent increase in annual medical school enrollment, a new $30 million education building in Columbia to accommodate the additional students, and $3 million in renovations at the Springfield facilities of CoxHealth and Mercy Hospital to create education space. 

Without the cigarette tax money, the university and its health care partners will return to their original plan of seeking private donors to defray construction costs and money from the state legislature to fund the remaining construction expenses and $10 million in annual operating costs. In a tough economy, however, that process could take two to three years, said Weldon Webb, medical school associate dean for rural health.

Currently the medical school has 1,500 applicants a year, but only has space to admit 96 of them. Meanwhile, 90 percent of Missouri counties don’t have enough health professionals to meet needs.

— Erik Potter