JEFFERSON CITY — Just hours after dropping the “interim” from her title, State Auditor Susan Montee waded into one of the thickest political issues facing lawmakers this session with her first audit: a review of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority.
Montee had promised before taking office that her first audit would be focused on the Chesterfield-based loan authority. She had raised concerns about how MOHELA assets were being used and about an $830,000 severance package for fired Executive Director Michael Cummins.
Montee, the Democratic former Buchanan County auditor, was appointed interim state auditor Thursday and took the oath of office just before noon Monday in the Capitol Rotunda. She replaces Democrat Claire McCaskill, who was sworn in Thursday as a U.S. senator.
Montee said one of her top goals is to work with state and county officials to ensure audit recommendations are turned into actual changes. She said her audit of MOHELA was just the beginning.
“Lawmakers are being put in a position of making decisions without enough information,” Montee said.
Under a plan to be considered by lawmakers, MOHELA would pay $350 million over six years to the Missouri Development Finance Board, which would pass most of that money on to college construction projects.
In return, MOHELA would be given more than $1 billion in tax-exempt bonding authority over 10 years to underwrite additional loans. MU also would consider using more MOHELA loans, while Gov. Matt Blunt’s administration would support legislative proposals allowing the quasi-governmental agency to originate its own loans.
MOHELA Executive Director Raymond Bayer said that although the quasi-governmental agency has never been audited by the state, it is often reviewed for both regulatory and financial concerns by different groups. He said the MOHELA board has pledged its support of Montee’s audit and already has begun providing documents to her office.
Aside from auditing MOHELA, Montee said she would continue conducting both performance and financial audits and planned to work on communication between the state auditor and the various counties.
Montee has hired former Senate Minority Leader Ken Jacob, a Columbia Democrat, as her general counsel.