Nearly half of the members of the Texas House are asking Gov. Rick Perry to add campus construction to the agenda of the current special session.
In a letter sent Monday, 69 members of the House asked the governor to add tuition revenue bonds for campus construction to the agenda, which is currently limited to redistricting.
Legislation that would have financed $2.7 billion in new construction died during the regular session, and bills that would address the issue have already been filed during the 30-day special session that began on May 27. Those can’t be considered unless the governor expands the agenda to include campus construction finance.
"Now is the time to make these investments, to take advantage of the historically low interest rates on bonds," Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said in a statement in which she made the letter public. "Moreover, studies have shown that approval and completion of the projects will have a significant economic benefit, providing increased business activity and additional jobs both in our local communities and throughout the state."
Here's the text of the letter (a copy, with signatures, is attached):
As you know, higher education enrollment in the state has seen substantial growth in recent years. This expansion, which is anticipated to continue for years to come, has brought with it a need for new and updated buildings and infrastructure at our public institutions.
In the recent 83rd Regular Session of the Legislature, a proposal to help finance the construction of approximately 60 university projects with Tuition Revenue Bonds fell just short of passing. Despite receiving affirmative votes in both the House and the Senate, a final compromise could not be reached prior to the final deadline for consideration.
This failure will have a substantial impact on higher education in Texas. Many projects will be put on hold for at least another two years, and some may disappear altogether. Meanwhile, lack of capacity may lead some of our best and brightest students to pursue their education at updated campuses outside of our state, while a growing number of students attending Texas public universities will continue to be taught in outdated, substandard, or out-of-the-way facilities. We do not want to see the withering of our state's academic competitiveness.
We, the undersigned members of the Texas House, respectfully request that you add much needed authority for campus construction bonds to the call for the current Special Session. In light of today's historically low interest rates and the critical need for investment in our higher education facilities, it is vital that we address this issue without further delay. Moreover, approval of these projects will bring notable benefits to our economy, with the construction and ongoing operations resulting in a significant multiplier effect in local communities and throughout the state.
A variety of bills have been filed on the matter, and broad agreement already exists between the House and the Senate. We are certain that any remaining differences can be quickly worked out once you have placed the item on the agenda. It should also be noted that the contingency funding has already been included in the budget for the 2014-15 biennium.
Thank you for your consideration of our request during what we know is a busy time in your office as you consider legislation passed during the regular session, and thank you for your service to the State of Texas.