Campus Construction, Not on the Call, Finds Momentum in Special Session

Lawmakers are pushing for new buildings and renovations across the state. Is it a fool’s errand, or a show of solidarity?

Campus Construction, Not on the Call, Finds Momentum in Special Session

On Thursday, the Texas House appropriations committee will consider a bill by state Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas) providing funding for dozens of construction and renovation projects at public colleges and universities across the state.

During the regular legislative session, both chambers authorized the projects by large, bipartisan majorities, but were unable to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions before the final buzzer.

The trouble? The funding mechanism, know as tuition revenue bonds (TRBs), has not been added to the agenda of the current special session, nor was it included in the first. Regardless of how much support the measure finds in the House—or Senate, where it has been championed by higher education chair Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo)—there’s only one person whose opinion matters. Gov. Rick Perry has to add TRBs to the call in order for a bill to be passed from either body.

So why are House members pushing the bill?

It’s a move that may seem to be equal parts quixotic and symbolic. Though they can’t be passed without Perry’s blessing, legislators are trying to send a clear signal that not only are TRBs needed, they’re also broadly supported.

Appropriations chair Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) added the bill to the committee’s agenda Wednesday, the same day the measure was filed. Branch and Seliger, along with state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, BS ’67, MA ’70, PhD ’78, Life Member (D-Laredo), Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), and state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) all filed bills for TRBs during the regular and special sessions.

In the pages of statewide newspapers, higher education leaders have also called on Perry in recent weeks to embrace campus construction.

At UT-Austin, TRBs would provide the final piece of the funding puzzle for the University’s EERC, a multi-use engineering facility slated to bring together various engineering disciplines to improve teaching and research. The $90 million that current TRB legislation would provide is about one third of the EERC’s total cost, with the other two-thirds coming from the UT System and private philanthropy.

Construction bonds haven’t been passed since a 2006 special session.

Editor’s Note: The Texas Exes support tuition revenue bonds legislation. You can read the Texas Exes’ legislative priorities here.

Photo courtesy Knowsphotos via Flickr Creative Commons.


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