The Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative was controversial when it was created in 2006, and it’s now the subject of a state audit.
The LCDI was a plan to essentially take $350 million out of MOHELA, the state’s student loan agency, to help pay for building projects at Universities across the state. State Auditor Susan Montee says MOHELA isn’t paying out the money as planned. It paid out $230 million up front, but has come up more than $20 million short on its quarterly payments of $5 million over the last 2 years.
“Right now with no money, there isn’t really a recommendation we can make as to what happens here. So in this particular case it’s kind of a look back,” Montee said.
The audit, posted online, details the specifics of the missed payments. $243 million has been ‘paid,’ but only $4 million of that was actually transferred from MOHELA since the original $230 million. The only thing keeping it from being a $30 million shortfall is interest the original money has earned.
“We know that MOHELA had some money come in (recently), but that money instead is going to scholarships because there’s a shortfall in the scholarship program. So as of right now we don’t see any indication that any additional monies are coming in for these projects,” Montee said.
So what happens to the building plans relying on that cash if the well stays dry?
“Those projects will just never get off the ground,” Montee said.
What about the entire LCDI program?
“It’s purely a matter of a wait and see attitude, it may just fall apart on its own,” Montee said.
Montee says the audit also found that the planners of the initiative didn’t work closely enough with the Department of Higher Education in selecting the projects to receive funds.
“The most outrageous thing here is that there were 16 projects, one-third of the money, were projects that weren’t on anyone’s priority list, including the institutions themselves. So we don’t know where those projects came from, they came from someone out there pulling them out of the air,” Montee said.
In its response in the audit, the Office of Administration says under the legislature is responsible for determining which projects to fund, and that the Department of Higher Education doesn’t have that authority.
“What should have happened is some kind of discussion over it and determining what were the right projects for that money to be spent on rather than pushing it all back on lobbying and special interests,” Montee said.
The audit also found issues with another part of the LCDI. $15 million was set to go to the Missouri Technology Corporation. Montee’s audit finds the MTC has only spent $3.2 million of that funding, and has imposed a 7 percent administrative fee without demonstrating how that fee was determined. She says a deeper audit of the MTC is currently underway.
Montee has also introduced the audit on the ‘Higher Education governance Structure and Coordination.’ It basically found that appropriations across the state are not being coordinated efficiently. The audit saw duplication of efforts, including millions of dollars institutions have spent on lobbying. She says this goes hand in hand with the LCDI audit.
“These are two large examples of what happens when you’ve got a coordinating board that is supposed to be doing the best thing for the state and is charged with that, and pulls together all of the information and works together with all of the institutions to come out with what is the best plan. Then the legislature is free to do whatever they want to without the benefit of all of the input and all of the coordination that is being done,” Montee said.