Attorney general plans public hearings for loan sale

Sunday, February 5, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Attorney General Jay Nixon said the public needs more opportunities to weigh in before the state student loan authority sells some of its loans.

Nixon, a Democrat, said Friday he would hold public hearings about the proposed sale. In a written statement, he said the hearings were needed because of a "troubling lack of transparency" that "has only led to more questions."

John Fougere, a spokesman for the attorney general, said the hearings would be held statewide but said he had no details about how they would work or when Nixon wants to hold them.

A spokesman for Gov. Matt Blunt said there is no reason for Nixon to get involved.

"The attorney general couldn't be any more irrelevant to this process," spokesman Spence Jackson said.

Fougere said the attorney general's office has sponsored public hearings before sales of other nonprofit entities, such as the Health Midwest system in Kansas City.

Kelly Ferrara, a spokeswoman for the Chesterfield-based loan authority, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday evening.

On Thursday, some Senate Democrats questioned the legality of using money from the sale of MOHELA's assets to pay for something other than student loans. The legislation that created MOHELA in 1981 states "proceeds, fees and other revenue" can be controlled only by MOHELA and its loans "shall not be considered to be public property."

Fougere said the attorney general's office has received questions about the legality of the sale and how the funds will be used.

In a news release, Jackson said MOHELA is a private entity, and the state is allowed to accept gifts from individuals and private entities.

During floor debate on Thursday, Sen. Joan Bray asked Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Chuck Gross how the Legislature would handle the money from the sale.

"How does a private group dump $400 million into the state treasury?" Bray, D-St. Louis, asked.

Gross, R-St. Charles, said he imagined it would work like every other gift received by the state. He said he wasn't sure what effect the language in the statute creating MOHELA would have, but lawmakers have several more months to try to figure that out.


On the Net:

Attorney General: http://www.ago.mo.gov

MOHELA: http://www.mohela.org

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