House Signals Approval for Campus Construction Bonds

Students cross a bridge over a resaca on the University of Texas Brownsville and Texas Southmost College campuses on Monday.
Students cross a bridge over a resaca on the University of Texas Brownsville and Texas Southmost College campuses on Monday.

The Texas House gave tentative approval to billions of dollars in bonds for campus construction projects on Monday. Senators already gave the go-ahead, but they will have a chance to revisit the proposal, because the House increased the total from about $2.4 billion to nearly $2.7 billion.

"These tuition revenue bonds are absolutely critical to our universities," said state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, adding, "The concern that we may be having to pay for part of it is fine, but the reality of it is, it’s a small investment." 

The Legislature is typically expected to pass a package of what are known as "tuition revenue bonds" — they don't actually have anything to do with tuition — every other regular session, but no such authorizations have been made since 2006. Meanwhile the wish list of new facilities for higher education around the state has grown.

The version of Senate Bill 16 by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, considered by the House on Monday included about $625 million for the Texas A&M System, about $930 million for the University of Texas System, about $25o million for the University of Houston System, about $210  million for the Texas State University System, about $250 million for the University of North Texas System and roughly $215 million for the Texas Tech University System.

That's slightly different than the version that passed out of the Senate in April, most notably for the UT System, which got more than a $230 million increase when the bill was tweaked in the House Appropriations Committee.

Part of the large amount for the UT System is approval of $100 million — up from $60 million in the original bill — to help build a new campus for what will soon be the former University of Texas at Brownsville. Lawmakers are expected to send a bill creating a new university by merging UT-Brownsville with the University of Texas-Pan American to the governor this week.

The House accepted an amendment by state Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia, to double the amount Prairie View A&M University can spend on “critical deferred maintenance” from $6.4 million to $12.8 million.

Becca Aaronson contributed to this report. 

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