Leaders, Legislators Push For Campus Construction Bonds

As Texas heads into another special session, higher education leaders are waiting to see whether Gov. Perry will add campus infrastructure legislation to the agenda.

Leaders, Legislators Push For Campus Construction Bonds

In spite of passage in both chambers of the legislature, dozens of new infrastructure projects are in limbo at colleges and universities across the state. Now, higher education leaders and lawmakers are pushing to have these building projects added to the agenda of the legislature’s second special session.

Tuition revenue bonds (TRBs)—the funding mechanism for new campus construction—were approved by large bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate during the regular session, but time ran out before legislators could work out the differences between the two versions. New legislation has been filed to fund the nearly 60 projects at Texas public colleges, but the bills cannot be considered unless Gov. Perry officially adds TRBs to the list of items, or “call,” for the 30-day special session which began last Monday.

State Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) has filed TRB legislation for UT’s proposed Engineering Education and Research Center, and Donna Howard (D-Austin) has filed matching legislation in the House.

Senate higher education chair Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) has filed an omnibus bill that would fund projects across Texas.

“If we’re going to have a seat in the classroom for every young person who wants to go to college and we want to go to college, we’re going to need to provide for that,” Seliger said.

Other higher education leaders are also supporting TRBs in statewide opinion pages, stressing low interest rates and the need for a well-trained workforce.

In the Houston Chronicle, former UT-Austin president Larry Faulkner, PhD ’69, Life Member, and former Texas A&M University president Ray Bowen made an economic case for campus construction.

“Without more modern and accessible universities,” they wrote, “we risk losing our best competitive advantage: a strong, growing, and well-educated workforce.”

Former state senator and UT System regent Cyndi Taylor Krier, BJ ’71, JD ’75, Life Member, and former Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board member Joe Krier, BA ’68, JD ’71, Life Member, also called for TRBs in the San Antonio Express-News.

“We have seen the importance of TRBs from both public and private-sector perspectives,” they wrote. “As our universities strive for national and international recognition, these investments will make Texas smarter, more efficient, and more competitive—while bringing jobs and economic growth.”

For several years, it was assumed that construction bonds would pass every other legislature—that is, every four years—but Texas has failed to pass TRB legislation since a 2006 special session. If they aren’t added in the coming weeks, it will be nearly a decade between the last bond package passed and the next legislative session in 2015.

Despite their name, the bonds do not use tuition money, but instead provide state funds to service the debt incurred by new construction. Since individual campuses lack budgets for new construction, many new projects are funded through TRBs. Without passage of new bonds, public colleges and universities will continue to wait for new labs, classrooms, and basic improvements while working with alumni and donors to help keep their projects alive.

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.

The governor’s office did not comment on the possibility of adding anything to the special session agenda.

Photo courtesy Ann Althouse via Flickr Creative Commons.


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