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House Panel Approves Spending Plan for MOHELA Proceeds

The House Budget committee heard testimony for and against legislation that sets out a spending plan for the proceeds from the sale of some MOHELA assets. The Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority is a quasi-governmental agency that underwrites student loans. KSMU's Missy Shelton was at today's hearing and files this report.

The bill that came before the House Budget committee lays out a plan for spending money generated by the partial sale of MOHELA...Republican Governor Matt Blunt proposed selling MOHELA and using the proceeds for university capitol improvements. He made that proposal earlier this year.

Under the House proposal which is different than the governor's plan, nearly 325 million dollars would go to four-year public universities for capitol improvement projects...Missouri State University would receive almost 30 million dollars for building improvements and seven million for the Jordan Valley Innovation Center. The bill also includes funds for community college building projects. The bill proposes spending some of the money from the sale of MOHELA assets on scholarships, debt reduction and economic development.

Before the hearing began Tuesday morning, Democrats on the committee raised concerns that lawmakers don't have all the information they need.

Democratic Representative Wes Shoemyer represents portions of North Central Missouri.

He says lawmakers have no way of knowing if the state is getting a good deal on the sale of some MOHELA assets.

Another Democratic Representative Rachel Storch of St Louis urged the committee to study the potential impact of the MOHELA sale on students before moving forward with plans to spend the proceeds from the sale.

Supporters of the measure say there's not enough time to do a study before session ends May 12th.

The bill sponsor is Republican Representative Allen Icet of St Louis County.

He's chairman of the House Budget Committee.

His bill includes using 75 million dollars from the MOHELA sale to offset the debt of building a new women's prison in Chillicothe.

While this part of the bill has drawn sharp criticism because it doesn't have anything to do with higher education, Icet says he believes it's wise to use some of the MOHELA money for debt reduction.

Some lawmakers asked questions about Icet's proposal to spend 15 million dollars in MOHELA proceeds on economic development.

Greg Steinhoff, Director of the State Department of Economic Development says the money will help bring new money to the state.

One lawmaker, Democratic Representative Ed Wildberger cautioned the committee that the bill will be a great temptation as it moves through the process...a temptation for lawmakers who want to bring money into their own districts in an election year.

House supporters of the bill say it's a compromise between the governor, House and Senate.

But the bill does not contain any provision that allocates the MOHELA proceeds to healthcare, a key part of a plan that some in the Senate support.