TXEXplainer: Can the Legislature Still Fund UT’s Engineering Building?

Rumor Roundup: Can the Legislature Still Fund UT's Engineering Building?

As the regular session of the Texas Legislature lurched across the finish line Monday, lawmakers left behind a number of bills—including one that would fund UT’s much-needed new engineering center—abandoning them until their next meeting. That next meeting was called by Gov. Rick Perry less than 10 minutes after the regular session ended, pulling legislators back under the dome for up to a month of overtime. Except the subject matter of the special session, known as the “call,” is limited to the single, contentious issue of redistricting. So far.

Despite the limited scope, legislators have filed bills during the special session on a broad range of topics, including a bill providing tuition-revenue bonds (TRBs, which do not involve tuition) for campus construction projects across the state. Senate Bill 11, by Amarillo Republican Kel Seliger, would allocate $80,750,000 for UT’s Engineering Education and Research Center. That’s about $15 million less than the TRB bill filed in the regular session by Laredo Democrat Judith Zaffirini, BS ’67, MA ’70, PhD ’78, Life Member.

Engineering dean Gregory Fenves told KUT’s Kate McGee that the Cockrell School could make up the difference through philanthropy. “We will find a way to make things work,” Fenves said.

UT-Permian Basin president David Watts sounded an optimistic, if uncertain, note regarding the omnibus TRB bill, which in addition to UT-Austin’s engineering building includes $51 million for an engineering building at Permian Basin.

“I have reason to believe something will happen this session,” Watts told the Midland Reporter-Telegram Tuesday. “I don’t know when, as only the governor can add an item to a call, but I feel positive.”

The governor’s decision, however, may be complicated by a number of other UT-related issues. Speaking through Jonathan Tilove’s “First Reading” column in the Austin American-Statesman Wednesday morning, Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak, BS ’03, shed some light on the governor’s thought process in the special session.

“Gov. Perry had a good session because he got most of what he wanted and none of what he didn’t want,” Mackowiak said. “His UT Board of Regent nominees were approved, and he can veto the new restrictions on the board members if he so chooses.”

In his own morning news clips Wednesday, Mackowiak noted that Perry may not, in fact, veto Senate Bill 15. The so-called “regents bill,” SB15 defines the role of regents. It was drafted by Seliger in response to ongoing tensions between the legislature and the UT System board during the regular session. Because of the timing of the bill, there are still questions about whether Perry even has enough time to veto it or whether his window to do so has passed.

“I think it’s likely that Gov. Perry traded his promise not to veto the regent bill for the Senate confirmation of his three nominees to the UT Board of Regents,” Mackowiak wrote Wednesday morning. “And perhaps also for the fixed-rate tuition bill (which passed on the 140th day, after appearing to die on the 139th).”

So far, Perry is tight-lipped on expanding the session. A Perry spokesman said Wednesday morning that a decision to expand the session has not been made.

“Right now,” Perry spokesman Josh Havens said, “we are focused on redistricting and reviewing the bills passed during regular session.”

Photo courtesy Jack via Flickr Creative Commons.


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