With a charged criticism of Attorney General Jay Nixon, Governor Blunt has indicated he will indeed ask the General Assembly to approve his plan to finance $350 million in college capital improvements. Blunt has announced he agrees with Economic Development Director Greg Steinhoff’s assessment that legislative approval would protect members of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA) from lawsuits. The governor proposes that MOHELA sell assets to generate the money needed. The MOHELA plan failed during the regular legislative session due to a disagreement between leadership in the House and Senate. Blunt pushed forward with the plan, insisting that it didn’t have to have legislative approval. Attorney General Nixon has been highly critical, just as insistent that Blunt needed legislative approval. Nixon says the state statute that established MOHELA restricts its activities to only those that help it promote access to higher education, such as offering low-interest loans and forgiving educational loan debt. An assistant attorney general’s suggestion to members of the MOHELA board that they could be sued should they approve the plan prompted the board to delay a vote. It is scheduled to consider Blunt’s proposal tomorrow during a meeting at its headquarters in Chesterfield. Blunt accuses Nixon of reckless and irresponsible conduct. Blunt released a written statement saying, “Legal authority already exists to move forward with this initiative as we have proposed; however in response to the attorney general’s reckless and irresponsible conduct, I support Director Steinhoff’s call for the Board to include legislative approval as protection for MOHELA board members against frivolous lawsuits that could be filed by the attorney general or his secret third parties who have aligned with him to diminish opportunities for students and destroy jobs for working families. It is unfortunate that this action is necessary and I had hoped that the attorney general would have put aside his political objections to this initiative by now out of concern for improving higher education and strengthening our state’s economy but he has chosen politics over sound public policy and it is incumbent on reasonable policymakers to provide protection from such overzealousness for individuals seeking to vote without the looming threat of a bogus lawsuit to contend with.” Nixon’s office responded with a terse statement, “Sending the MOHELA proposal back to the General Assembly for consideration provides the necessary opportunity for public input. It is essential that the legislature also demand the analysis that was promised on the impact of this deal on Missouri families’ access to higher education.” The issue has become an incredibly hot political debate between the governor and the attorney general, who likely will face each other in the gubernatorial race in 2008. Neither has made his candidacy official, but indications are that Governor Blunt will run for re-election and Attorney General Nixon will be his Democratic challenger.
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