Governor concerned about call for regents to resign

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The resignations are a condition for the House speaker to support River Campus funding.

Gov. Matt Blunt voiced concern Friday over House Speaker Rod Jetton's call for three Southeast Missouri State University regents to resign as a condition to garner legislative support for state funding for the River Campus arts school project.

"Such forced resignations could undermine the independence of the board and would set a bad precedent," the governor said in a written statement. "It is my hope that the current board and policy makers in Jefferson City can resolve any differences."

Southeast Missouri State University president Dr. Ken Dobbins said the governor made similar comments to him in a meeting in the Capitol on Thursday. Dobbins said the regents won't resign and have no reason to do so.

A spokesman for Jetton said Friday that the speaker wouldn't comment on Blunt's statement. But Jetton wrote a lengthy letter to the Southeast Missourian defending his call earlier this week for the resignations of regents John Tlapek of Cape Girardeau, Brad Bedell of Sikeston and Gail Rosmarin of Poplar Bluff.

They are the only remaining regents who were on the university board when it voted in 2002 to issue bonds to help fund the River Campus project. The bonds were sold through the Missouri Development Finance Board in September 2003.

The Marble Hill Republican wrote that he won't vote to appropriate money for River Campus construction until he and other lawmakers are assured that the regents won't ever issue bonds for construction projects again without first securing the state money needed to retire the debt.

"To this day, the current members of the board who voted for the bonding scheme say they would do it again. That is just not acceptable," Jetton wrote.

"There may need to be a change of leadership with the Board of Regents in order for the legislature to regain a sense of trust that the university's fiscal management can move forward in a sound manner," the House speaker wrote.

House leaders, led by Jetton, so far have refused to include state funding for the River Campus in the list of campus projects that would be funded with the sale of Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority student loans. But Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson said the governor supports the River Campus project even though he didn't include it in a list of 20 campus projects around the state that he wants funded with the MOHELA money.

The River Campus project didn't make the governor's list because state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, didn't back it in a meeting with the governor, Jackson said. Crowell said that was a misunderstanding and that he will work to get $17.2 million in state funding for the ongoing project.

But Crowell, like Jetton, believes the university was wrong to issue bonds without having the state funding in place for the River Campus project.

House Republicans on Thursday outlined their own plan on how to spend an estimated $450 million that would be generated from the sale of MOHELA loans.

Blunt's plan calls for spending $300 million on campus construction projects, with at least one project at all the regional universities including Southeast -- $5 million for a life-science research facility.

The House plan would reduce construction spending to $165 million.

Jackson said the governor still favors the more expansive construction plan and would find it difficult to support a spending plan that leaves out funding for Southeast or any of the other public four-year universities.

The governor thinks the River Campus project still has support in Jefferson City, Jackson said, adding "We need to see how this moves through the legislature."

He said Blunt will continue to push for his spending plan. "The governor always plays a pivotal role in the outcome," Jackson said.

335-6611, extension 123

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