SENATE APPROVES HIGHER EDUCATION BONDS
|Senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo sponsored the tuition revenue bond bill in the Senate.|
(AUSTIN) — Sixty-four public universities would be given the authority to issue more than $3 billion in bonding authority to fund capital construction projects under a bill approved by the Senate Tuesday. Tuition revenue bonds are paid back by revenue from the construction projects that they fund, but only the Legislature can give institutions the authority to issue them. Senate Higher Education Chair Kel Seliger said that the state hasn't authorized these bonds since 2006, despite enrollment growth of more than 22 percent in that time.
TRBs were first issued in 1971 and have been authorized three times since, most recently during the 79th Legislative Session. The purpose of each bond is enumerated within the language of the bill and includes projects like a new $60 million health science center at the UT Medical Branch in Galveston and $71 million for a new biocontainment research facility at Texas A&M University. Not all projects are new construction; the legislation would authorize millions for renovations and retrofits for existing buildings.
Two Senators rose to offer amendments intended to highlight major issues. The first of these was from Tyler Senator Kevin Eltife. The amendment would have changed the method of funding from bonds to cash from state coffers. Throughout the session, Eltife has criticized the use of debt to meet state needs at a time when the state has cash on hand. "It just makes no sense to me that we are going to borrow $3 billion and pay it out over the next 25 or 30 years when we have cash in the bank," he told colleagues on the Senate floor Tuesday. Eltife added that the state would end up paying $1.5 billion in interest over the life of the proposed bonds. Seliger agreed with Eltife, but said that the budget bill already passed through the Senate ties their hands with respect to this issue. "The limitation that we have is a budget provision that will only pay debt service," said Seliger. Eltife ultimately withdrew his amendment.
The second amendment offered by Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner would slow the growth of tuition at public colleges and universities. Since the Legislature gave universities the power to set their own tuition in 2003, the price of higher education has skyrocketed, more than doubling at some institutions. Schwertner said that the rising cost of college has pushed it out of reach for many middle-class families. "The policy of deregulation is failing Texas families," he said. His amendment would have capped tuition increases at one percent plus the rate of inflation per year. After calling for the reregulation of college tuition, Schwertner told colleagues that his amendment was not germane to the bill, and therefore could not be added on. He withdrew his amendment, but vowed to use every opportunity to call for a solution to the cost of higher education in Texas.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, May 20 at 11 a.m.