MOHELA moving forward with college construction plan

Thursday, November 30, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Legislature hasn't debated the deal yet, much less approved it. But the state's college loan authority is moving forward with a plan to provide $350 million to the state for campus construction projects.

The Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority said Thursday that it was creating a special account -- starting off with $65 million -- to set aside money that eventually would be transferred to the state, if the Legislature approves the plan.

The agency also has begun a bid process to sell off the first batch student loans that would help finance the college construction plan, said Will Shaffner, MOHELA's associate director of business development. Proceeds from the loan sales could be added to the special account before the end of the year, he said.

"The reserving of these funds demonstrates not only MOHELA's strong commitment to fund the governor's Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative, but also the financial wherewithal to fund the plan," MOHELA's executive director, Raymond Bayer Jr., said in written statement.

Blunt has sought since last January to tap into MOHELA's roughly $5.9 billion in assets to finance his higher education initiative. His plan underwent several revisions before failing last May in the Legislature.

But Blunt's administration and his appointed MOHELA board members reached a new agreement in late September, which remains contingent upon legislators' approval during their 2007 session.

Under the plan, the Chesterfield-based quasi-governmental student loan entity would pay $350 million over six years to the Missouri Development Finance Board, which would pass $335 million on to public colleges and universities for new and improved buildings, many of which would relate to the life sciences. Fifteen million dollars would go to the Missouri Technology Corp. to attract high-tech businesses and spinoff university research into commercial products.

In exchange, the Department of Economic Development would provide MOHELA $1.1 billion to $1.8 billion in tax-exempt bonding authority over the next decade, which MOHELA would use to underwrite additional student loans.

The agreement also calls for the University of Missouri to consider increased use of MOHELA loans and for Blunt's administration and the university to support legislation expanding MOHELA's ability to initiate loans.

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