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A House vote tested approval of the governor's plan to sell MOHELA assets

March 14, 2006
By: Meghan Maskery
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's governor won a key test vote on his plans to sell a portion of the state's college loan program.

By near party-line votes, the House defeated amendments that would have eliminated use of the funds raised from the loan-program sale to repay state debt.

Democrats argued against sale of the college loan program assets -- calling the plan "Mo-Steal-A" in a play on the initials of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authorty, MOHELA.

"What we're doing with this money, with this appropriation is stealing the money from the students of the state of Missouri," said Rep. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence.

"I'm frankly surprised by the support we have from our higher education institutions. The state we put them in to go so low to want that money from students to build capital projects."

Democrats sought to remove from the budget a $75 million appropriation to use some of the MOHELA sale to pay off part of the state's bond debt -- an use that was not included in the governor's original plan.

Democrats offered amendments that ranged from eliminating the $75 million budget item altogether to using the money for scholarships, elementary and secondary education and community colleges.

Shoemyer also questioned whether taking money from the state's student loan underwriter is even legal, a topic that came up for discussion at MOHELA's board meeting on Friday.

House budget committee chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said that the committee had only made an initial planning step for the money expected to come to the state after the MOHELA board of directors votes on a sale.

Icet said state law does not prohibit MOHELA from selling its assets to generate funds for the state although attorneys for MOHELA could not definitively say that the sale would be legal at Friday's board meeting. The board said they would not approve a sale if it violates state law.

The MOHELA board of directors approved a plan on Jan. 31 to sell $2.4 billion in student loans in an effort keep the non-profit lender intact after the governor proposed a sale of the entire state agency to fund higher education.

House republicans announced their own proposal for spending expected profits from the sale at a Feb. 9 press conference.

Under that plan, $190 million would be spent on scholarships, $18 million on repairs and maintenance projects at community colleges, $75 million on debt repayment, and $165 million on building construction.

This proposal breaks from Gov. Matt Blunt's plan to provide $300 million for campus building projects, $100 million for scholarships, $20 million for endowed scholarships, $5 million to entice technological businesses to move closer to campuses and $25 million for unspecified projects.

The $300 million the governor marked for campus construction would include $87.5 million for a Health Sciences Research and Education Center to be built on MU's campus next to the medical school and University Hospital.

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, who voted to keep the $75 million appropriation for debt repayment, said he supports the governor's original plan.

"If we do the debt reduction, what that does then is free some general revenue. Then that general revenue could be transferred to do scholarships, so this is all sort of interrelated," Robb said.