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House Republicans announce plan to divvy up funds from MOHELA sale

February 09, 2006
By: Jason Rosenbaum
State Capital Bureau
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JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri House Republicans split with their party's governor on how to use profits from the sale of the college student loans held by the state.

In a break with Gov. Matt Blunt, House Republicans on Thursday offered a spending plan that would put more funds into scholarships at the expense of the governor's plan for new university buildings.

Minority Floor Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said it looks like there is a disagreement between House Republicans and the governor over what to do with the revenue from the partial sale of MOHELA assets.

He said the split between the governor and House Republicans on how to spend the money could be stemming from defeats in Tuesday's special elections.

"You might say that after we [Democrats] won two out of three elections on Tuesday, they're trying to run away from the governor," he said in reference to the Democratic victories in Tuesday's special House elections.

The House GOP plan would give $190 million for scholarships, $165 million for capital improvements, $18 million for repairs and maintenance to community colleges and $75 million for state debt reduction.

Last week, Blunt proposed $300 million for building construction, $100 million for scholarships, $20 million for endowed professorships, $5 million to bring technological businesses closer to campuses and $25 million for unspecified projects.

Dozens of House Republicans gathered to announce their proposal. House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, said the switch in priorities was to put the focus on students.

"I believe that we support with what the governor wants to accomplish in his capital improvement program," Bearden said. "But we do it a little different way. And we changed the priority from bricks and mortars, and we changed our priority to students."

Repeatedly, Republicans said their plan was "putting students first" by offering them a chance at more affordable college education.

"With the higher costs of tuition, this is more important than it's ever been," said House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill. "So we have a very significant part of our program to be providing scholarships to students so they can get to school."

Under the plan, any student who had attended a Missouri high school for at least three years could receive a one-year scholarship worth $250 in the program's first year, $500 in the second, $750 in the third and $1,000 afterward at any 2-year or 4-year higher education institution in Missouri.

To obtain the scholarship, a high school student would have to participate in community service, have at least a 2.5 GPA and have sought out other sources for financial aid.

"Although it has not been finalized, I am thrilled after years of reduced funding and flat funding for higher education, we finally are in the position to offer something for higher education," said Rep. Kathlyn Fares, R-St. Louis County and chair of the House Education Appropriation Committee.

Jetton said he talked with the governor before crafting the plan.

"Clearly he likes his plan the best, just as I would like my plan the best," Jetton said. "But he said he was very thankful that we've come up with a good, logical plan that he looks forward to working with us, to continue going in the same direction trying to improve higher education."

Spence Jackson, director of communications for Blunt, said the House Republican plan is part of "a very open and public discussion on the future of higher education."

Joe Moore, communications director for the UM System, said it was far too early to speculate about how the money from the MOHELA sale would be divided.

But he added that there were many elements of Blunt's plan that were appealing to the university.

"The governor's proposal does indeed have a lot that we prefer, including funding for endowed chairs and more funding for capital projects, of which we are in dire need," he said.

Under the governor's plan, $87.5 million of the capital improvement funds would go to fund a $150 health science research and education center close to University Hospital. Also possible under Blunt's plan was a bio-processing facility in southeast Columbia.

Harris said he wants to see more details about how the capital improvement funds would be spent under the latest GOP plan.

"What I want to see happen, first and foremost, with proceeds of this sale, if the sale is legally valid, is funding for Health Sciences Center on the Mizzou campus," Harris said.

"I want to visit with the speaker and the governor about how we can reconcile things here and make sure we fund the Health Sciences Center."

Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia said confusion is reigning after a third plan on how to use the funds from the partial MOHELA sale -- in reference to Blunt changing his initial proposal after the MOHELA board offered a counter plan.

"Making deals in the back room is not how we want to go about governing," Baker said.

Baker said that a number of interests -- including students and university administrators -- need to be involved in order to craft a way to spend the money from the MOHELA sale.

"I think if we got people all together, we could work out a plan that makes sense," she said. "I do not think we're going in that direction."