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Senators spar over MOHELA sale

February 02, 2006
By: Jason Rosenbaum
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - For a moment in time, Coretta Scott King and the sale of the Missouri student loan organization had something in common.

Shortly after a resolution honoring Martin Luther King Jr.'s late wife came to the floor Thursday, Senate Democrats ripped into Gov. Matt Blunt's proposal to partially sell the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority.

"I'm very concerned that without checking with the legislature, and without going through the people's legislature, that this governor has chosen to modify his proposal to shove pork in the barrel because of his sagging poll numbers," said Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County.

Later, Callahan questioned whether MOHELA could make the sale of half of their assets.

"What I'm trying to determine, and what I was trying to determine last week, is could they do that?" Callahan said. "It is unclear whether they could do that on their own."

He said the governor didn't provide enough information to state legislators about the sale.

"We don't know what the color of the sky is," he said to Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph. "Because we're in the dark."

He charged that Shields placed a "partisan tone" on the debate when key Republican leaders, including state treasurer Sarah Steelman and House Speaker Rod Jetton, expressed concerns about the MOHELA sale.

But Shields said the MOHELA board was in its right to sell half of its holdings. He challenged his Democratic counterparts to take action if they felt otherwise.

"If you want oversight over MOHELA, file a bill," he said. "Have you got it? Because I haven't seen it."

Shields asked Callahan why he would support building projects, but wouldn't approve of a plan to construct university buildings.

Shields said Senate Democrats were trying to find something to gripe about the sale.

"They really didn't like it the way it was presented last week," he said. "Changes were made, which I think were very positive. Yet despite that, they still seem to think there's an issue."

Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, said he agreed with Shields reasoning.

"The governor did the absolute right thing," Loudon said to Callahan. "It's a win-win, the game's over, Missouri's moving forward and I think you just didn't win this game."

And Sen. John Engler, R-Farmington, chastised the Democrats for using a resolution honoring King to launch attacks against the MOHELA sale.

"When you bring up a resolution to honor one of our country's foremost civil rights leaders, and we talk about doing this, and we turn it into a discussion to 'let's slam the governor,' I think that's a stretch too," Engler said. "Taffy doesn't get stretched that far."

But Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, said the Senate was an appropriate venue to debate about MOHELA.

"A senator get can get up and talk about anything they want, anytime" she said. "And this is critical. It's something that's going on now, there's questions now. Let's talk about it."