MOHELA postpones vote to approve loans sale

Jessica MacIntosh

Movement on the sale of assets from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority that could make Missouri Southern’s proposed health sciences building a reality could happen as early as next week.

After postponing a vote Sept. 8, the MOHELA board has moved its meeting to Wednesday to approve selling loans for capital improvements at state colleges and universities. Southern’s share from the sales is estimated at $19 million.

“We will just have to wait then,” said University President Julio León.

On Sept. 19, the Missouri Development Finance Board voted to approve the distribution of $350 million from MOHELA for capital improvements.

León said the reason for the postponement was Attorney General Jay Nixon informed the MOHELA board in a nine-page letter of problems he saw.

“He felt that a decision to go along with this proposal might be against the law,” he said.

León said members of the attorney general’s office contacted some of the MOHELA board members individually to inform them the board is engaged in illegal activity.

“Also the board members individually could be libel to lawsuits so they decided not to vote,” he said.

From his understanding, León said the claim the attorney general made was, he believes, the purpose for which MOHELA was created was to help with the lending process.

“It was not to sell the loans that they acquire in order to provide funding for building,” he said.

León said Nixon is suggesting the vote would be against the statutes.

“He is then suggesting that (Gov. Matt Blunt) should go to the legislature (and) have them change the purpose of MOHELA so they can do this,” he said.

At a Sept. 11 luncheon for the Missouri Retired Teachers Association, Nixon said he disagrees with the proposal.

He believes it is “contrary” to the purpose of the funding and there is no legislative approval.

“To change the purpose of MOHELA requires legislative votes of 82 in the House and 18 in the Senate,” he said.

“If this is to be done, it should not be a backroom deal to pass out political plums during an election year. And third, there has been no opportunity for public input.”

Southern is to receive $19 million toward the construction of a health sciences building, which has been in the planning stages since 1998. It will include nursing, respiratory therapy, radiology, dental hygiene, kinesiology and psychology departments.

León said if the board votes against the proposal, the status of the health sciences building would change.

“That would mean if they decide not to sell those [loans] then we would not receive $19 million for that purpose,” he said.