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Higher education institutions would get billions for specific investment projects under legislation approved by Texas House on Sunday. With only two days until the end of the special session, the Senate can now decide whether to approve the House’s list of construction projects or enter a conference committee to settle disputes before sending the bill to the governor. Greg Abbott.
The legislature moved swiftly over the past week to fund specific campus construction projects as the end of this year’s third special session nears. On Friday, the same day Abbott added “legislation to improve higher education” to its agenda, the Senate approved its list of projects at state universities, totaling just over $ 3 billion. .
The House version adds more than $ 200 million in construction projects than the Senate version. It distributes money to more universities, health-related institutions, and technical colleges across the state, but in many cases it allocates less money per university than the Senate version.
Representative Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who introduced the bill on the floor of the House on Sunday, told lawmakers higher education enrollment had increased 8% since 2015, the last time the Legislative Assembly approved a bill on tax obligations for tuition fees payable for construction improvements and construction.
“[These projects] have the ability to provide the kinds of degrees our workforce needs today and in the future, but they also serve an economic purpose across our state: creating jobs, both in construction and in the future. manufacturing, ”Bonnen said. “And then, educate and prepare the workforce of tomorrow once the buildings are finished.
Tuition-related tax obligations are secured by tuition and other fees, but are reimbursed out of public funds.
The House version of the bill provides funding to schools based on the level of research conducted by a university, whether it is a regional university or a health-related institution or technical college. Many regional public universities like Texas A&M-Kingsville, University of Texas at Tyler and Stephen F. Austin State University, all receive the same flat rate.
One exception is Texas Southern University, which lawmakers have said is in urgent need of renovations and facility upgrades, some related to the winter storm in February. The House and Senate versions include around $ 95 million for the historically black university.
Bonnen also introduced additional changes to the house’s floor, allowing schools to use the money they receive for alternative construction projects up to $ 40 million, including deferred maintenance or l ‘infrastructure. Any change in a project over $ 40 million would require the prior approval of the Legislative Budget Council.
The modified version of the House includes additional funding of $ 30 million for three of the founding entities of a new biomedical research campus at Texas Medical Center in Houston: Texas A&M University Health Science Center, University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. While the Senate version provided around $ 129 million for Texas A&M and MD Anderson for construction projects in the new medical city, the House added funding for the UT Health Science Center, for a total of $ 209 million. .
He also cut funding from Sul Ross State University and reallocated it within the Texas State University system to the flagship San Marcos campus. The Senate version of the bill also did not allocate money to Sul Ross State.
The House version establishes a new Capital Project Oversight Commission that will develop guidelines for project approval and help lawmakers assess the merit of future projects.
“Because it’s a recurring challenge,” Bonnen told lawmakers in the House on Sunday. “How to best assess and assess the demand for investment projects coming from all the different universities, and do it in a judicious way and offering the best return on investment for the population of the state?” “
The House included a provision requiring universities to report their contracts for these projects to the Legislative Budget Council.
If Governor Abbott signs this bill, it could also mean that it is no longer about tuition tax obligations, which lawmakers complain are not paid with tuition fees, but from general state revenue. While the funding mechanism will remain the same, the bill would change the name to Capital Construction Assistance Projects.
Abbott added TRBs to the agenda for the Third Special Session of the Legislature two days after Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick requested them.
Lawmakers cannot pass new laws in a special session that are not put on the governor’s agenda.
Before the governor issued this proclamation, lawmakers had explored other ways to tailor tuition income obligations to the parameters of Abbott’s Third Special Session goals, which also include determining how to spend 16 billion dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money.
Earlier in the session, the Senate included up to $ 325 million that could be used for tuition income bonds as part of a separate bill allocating funds for coronaviruses, another priority of Abbott. In this bill they made federal money subject to the adoption by the legislature of a bill during the third extraordinary session “relating to the issuance of obligations to pay tuition fees”.
The House and Senate on Friday appointed members of a conference committee to negotiate the details of the legislation.
Disclosure: MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas Southern University – Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, Texas A&M University System, and Texas State University System financially supported The Texas Tribune, a non-profit, non-partisan news organization funded in partly through donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list of them here.