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TribBlog: Campus Construction Coming?

Times may be tough, but higher education leaders in both chambers of the Legislature believe now is the perfect time for universities to build.

Students on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

Times may be tough, but higher education leaders in both chambers of the Legislature believe now is the perfect time for universities to build.

On Friday, Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed a bill that would authorize tuition-backed revenue bonds to fund 74 construction projects at 53 of the state's higher education institutions. "This is the perfect time to invest in these projects that would create jobs and have a dramatic economic multiplier effect on our state,” she said in a statement.

Earlier this month, at a Texas Tribune TribLive event, House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, also backed the idea, citing the favorable interest rates and low construction costs borne out of the weak economy. He said investing in physical infrastructure, at a time when higher education is facing major cuts, would "send a message around the country that we’re still taking higher ed seriously."

In addition to the economic climate, Zaffirini also said that the lag between the bonds' authorization and the completion of a project makes the timing of this bill critical. "If we wait until 2013 to authorize [tuition revenue bonds], Texas universities will have to wait until 2016 or 2017 to complete construction. I hope my colleagues will agree with me that this is unacceptable."

For now, Zaffirini's bill includes all projects that have been submitted to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for approval. The list of projects is wide-ranging. Just a few examples: $63 million for a student success center at the University of Texas at Brownsville, $75 million for a life sciences building at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and $7.5 million for the "campus boiler and other related infrastructure replacement" at Sul Ross State University.

Each project will be evaluated and ranked based on cost, need and impact on meeting statewide higher education goals. The bill could later be amended if it gains enough momentum to reach that point, to remove projects based on their evaluation.

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