In what could be a last-ditch effort, public university officials and their advocates in the state Legislature are urging Gov. Rick Perry to add nearly $3 billion in construction bonds to the to-do list for the second special legislative session, which begins Monday.
But the governor has not signaled any inclination to do so, and he did not include such funding in the topics he assigned lawmakers to address in the first special session. The House and Senate passed different versions of a construction bond package benefiting a few dozen academic and health campuses during the regular session but couldn’t resolve differences before time ran out.
Senate Higher Education Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has filed a measure in advance of the second special session that would authorize $2.8 billion in bonds. Lawmakers would be unable to act on it unless Perry adds the topic to the “call,” which he has thus far limited to abortion, transportation funding and juvenile justice. Seliger filed a similar bill in the first special session, but it went nowhere.
Seliger allowed that he is perhaps not “a terribly skilled political tea leaf reader” but said he nevertheless feels strongly that the package is essential to accommodate growing enrollment.
“I think everybody knows the needs,” Seliger said. “The question is entirely the governor’s call.”
His measure, Senate Bill 6, includes $90 million in bonds for an engineering education and research center at the University of Texas, $47.6 million for a medical education and research building at Texas State University’s Round Rock campus and $73.3 million for an engineering and science building at Texas State’s campus in San Marcos.
House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said he plans to file a construction bond measure this week.
“I look forward to trying to visit with the governor and see if he feels there’s more time for it this session,” Branch said. Perry had indicated during the first special session that there wasn’t sufficient time to deal with construction bonds, Branch said.
It’s also possible that Perry has doubts about whether all of the proposed projects are needed. He has urged universities in recent years to hold the line on tuition and other spending. Perry’s office did not respond to emails seeking comment.
The construction bonds are technically known as tuition revenue bonds because tuition is pledged to pay back the principal and interest. In practice, the Legislature pays off the debt with general revenue.
“We’re hopeful that the governor will add tuition revenue bonds to the call,” said Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, a spokeswoman for the UT System. “We know there is important state business to be addressed, but we believe TRBs represent a critical state need and hope legislators will have the opportunity to consider legislation.”
Texas State issued this statement: “We remain optimistic that the governor will eventually include tuition revenue bond funding in the call.”