MOHELA board votes, approves loan sale

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (center) discusses the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative at a press conference in the Billingsly Student Center Sept. 22.

Alexandra Nicholas

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (center) discusses the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative at a press conference in the Billingsly Student Center Sept. 22.

After eight years of waiting for a new health sciences building, Missouri Southern will have to hold on for four months more.

Gov. Matt Blunt’s Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative would provide $335 million for capital improvements on university and community college campuses (including $19 million for Southern) via the sale of loans from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA).

Blunt delayed progression of the initiative until the issue receives legislative approval in January, though the MOHELA board passed the issue 4-2 Sept. 27.

“[The passage] is a very positive step obviously . . . but the MOHELA board approved with the condition that it also be supported by legislation,” said University President Julio León.

The initiative has received bipartisan support with the major opposition coming from Attorney General Jay Nixon.

Spence Jackson, communications director for Blunt, told [The Chart] the governor delayed the initiative due to “threats made by the attorney general and secret third parties who have aligned with him against MOHELA board members.”

Attorney General Nixon has filed several lawsuits already and has threatened suits against individual board members, claiming the sale of MOHELA assets violates the charter of the organization. Others have claimed the initiative favors capital improvements over students, though the plan allocates $25 million in general revenue for scholarships. In addition to the capital improvements and scholarship money, the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative would provide construction jobs in the communities slated to receive buildings.

“Do not assume, simply because the state’s colleges and universities need capital funding, that the so-called Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative is designed to meet those needs,” Nixon said in a letter to the MOHELA board.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder concluded a statewide tour of Missouri universities, including Southern, to promote the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative and to make a statement on Nixon’s actions.

“Mr. Nixon has been behaving in a fashion quite reminiscent…of a school yard bully,” Kinder said.

Kinder spoke to administrators, the press and the public, asking not only for support of the initiative but to ask Nixon to stand down with his opposition.

“Stop being the guy who stands in the schoolhouse door . . . instead get on board with us for this positive step for Missouri,” Kinder said.

Kinder believes the attorney general’s actions are “not legally based,” but based on politics and policy.

“We really believe that his actions have been outrageous,” Kinder said.

Many political officials including Kinder and Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) have said Nixon is politicizing the issue in anticipation of his upcoming gubernatorial run against Blunt.

“He sees what a huge, huge success this could be for the governor that he’s running against,” Nodler said. “He’s a party crasher, he doesn’t have an invitation.”

Call’s to Nixon’s office by The Chart had not been returned by press time.

Kinder also spoke about the consequences of continuing the delay of the building projects.

“Everyday that we wait . . .the opportunity cost for not going forward has been calculated at $70,000 a day for these state projects,” Kinder said.

The project for Southern’s new health sciences building has been in the works for eight years and León is hopeful the opposition from the attorney general and those affiliated will cease and that the new building will soon be on its way.

“[Education] should never be political,” León said.