Nodler higher education bill reaches Senate floor

Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) brought his omnibus higher education bill (SB389) before the Senate for discussion Feb. 13 and a colleague from the other side of the aisle had questions.

Nodler explained the bill page-by-page and received frequent questions from Sen. Joan Bray (D-St. Louis county). But not all of her questions were in opposition.

“There are portions of that bill that I am supportive of,” she said. “But I’m not supportive of the MOHELA portion as he has it. I just think it’s bad public policy.

“MOHELA is all about access to higher education and low interest loans so students can get a higher education. His bill takes that money and puts it into bricks and mortar and a lot of those brick have nothing to do with students.”

But Nodler believes the capital improvements that will be done with the money from MOHELA are long overdue.

“The fact of the matter is we haven’t had a major capital improvement effort in the state of Missouri in more than seven years,” he said.

Which has sparked interest and alternatives from other senators, specifically Sen. Wes Shoemyer (D-Clarence).

Shoemyer proposed an alternative that would still provide capital improvements across the state, but wouldn’t use as much money from MOHELA, which is the reason some senators like his plan more.

“I am more supportive of Senator Shoemyer’s alternative,” Bray said. “If I were pushed against a wall and it was between the two, I would certainly vote for Senator Shoemyer’s because I think his is more responsible.”

Bray said there is, however, another, better way to fund the building projects.

“My favorite outcome is for MOHELA to pretty much remain as it is,” she said. “The state is starved for capital improvement. And we need to invest in renovation and new buildings and in upkeep better.

“But there’s a way to do it. And that’s with a capital bond issue. We’ve done these periodically throughout the years. We can do it again.”

But a bond issue is one of the major parts of Shoemyer’s bill. Instead of receiving the money up front from MOHELA and buying the buildings now, the bill would bond for the money and pay it back over 15 or 20 years.

The money to pay back the bonds will come from general revenue, but MOHELA will contribute a small percentage of its profits back to general revenue annually.

Originally, Shoemyer asked for 1 1/2 percent, but he believes the plan may only need between 3/4 percent to 1 percent annually.

Yet Nodler said there are still two main problems with Shoemyer’s plan.

“First, it delays the effect of the buildings,” Nodler said. “You can’t build them now, they are built over a long period of time, a little at a time.

“Secondly, they are built on borrowed funds, and we have to pay interest so you don’t get a cash and carry approach. You get a borrow against the future approach.

“Also when you delay like that, because of the inflation of construction cost you’ll get less for your dollar. The projects will be smaller, the benefits less and the cost will be greater.”

Nodler said with his plan, projects would start immediately and take only four years to receive the money and four years to build, with some projects starting very soon.

“The building at Missouri Southern could go up almost immediately,” he said. “Yet the University of Missouri project is probably three or four years away from being built.”

With those questions in the air, Nodler laid his bill to rest for now so his fellow senators can consider their options.

“We’ll be on it for several days or maybe even a couple of weeks,” Nodler said.

And although Shoemyer’s plan hasn’t been set for a committee hearing, he believes he’ll get a good look from other senators during the discussion of Nodler’s plan.

“We should be debating every option,” he said. “And we’ll give some folks a chance to examine and compare the significant differences between the other plan and mine.”