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Bonds Bill Would Help Texas Universities' Construction Costs

Photo by KUT News.
A new report out of UT Austin says the university reaps twice as much as it pays for faculty.

The last time the Texas Legislature approved construction expenses for public universities and community colleges was in 2006. This session, lawmakers are considering a tuition revenue bond bill that would approve billions for new buildings. 

University administrators told lawmakers they need millions of dollars for construction projects on their space-strapped campuses. They cited skyrocketing student enrollment numbers, aging buildings and new research projects as reasons to lay the bricks and mortar.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee listened to those arguments on Wednesday.

Giuseppe Colasurdo, president of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said some of the buildings are 40 years old. They’re requesting more than $110 million.

"The life cycle of very expensive items like HVACs, elevators and others are at the end and with this large school enrollment, it is a critical need and priority for our institution," Colasurdo said.

The committee’s lawmakers weighed the bill, SB 16, by State Senator Judith Zaffirini. The Laredo Democrat’s measure would allow more than $2 billion in bonds for schools to issue to the public so they can get funding for infrastructure projects. The institutions could use tuition money to back up the bonds and the state would pay the principle and interest payments for them.

Last legislative session lawmakers did not approve financing of campus construction plans. This session, the Senate approved “debt service” funding for higher education in its budget.

Dominic Chavez with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board said the universities have dire needs.

"We’ve got a little more than half a million students on our campuses since 2000," Chavez said. Because we’re adding all these new students, there’s a critical need for more infrastructure to accommodate new students, to accommodate all the research activity that’s happening on our campuses."

The committee approved the bill. It now goes to the Senate floor for consideration.