*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Gov. Greg Abbott wants to eliminate an incentive program for technology startups in favor of a new program that would make payments to universities that recruit prestigious faculty.
Abbott on Thursday announced a proposal to end the Emerging Technology Fund, started by his predecessor, former Gov. Rick Perry. The fund, which awards grants to technology startup, has been a magnet for criticism, including a scathing report in 2011 by the state auditor that found it lacked sufficient guidelines for “transparency and accountability.”
Abbott’s proposal would take half of the remaining cash from the Emerging Technology Fund to fund a program called the Governor’s University Research Initiative, which would partially finance Texas universities in the recruitment of Nobel Laureates and other renowned academics.
“Texas will continue to make meaningful and effective investments in job creation,” Abbott said in a written statement. “Now we must also harness our resources to elevate Texas’ higher education institutions as integral participants in our economic advancement.”
The other half of the money in the Emerging Technology Fund would be reallocated under Abbott’s proposal to the Texas Enterprise Fund, another incentive program pioneered by Perry that makes payments to businesses that move their operations to Texas.
The Emerging Technology Fund "has played an important part of the diversification of Texas' economy, helping keep innovative technologies in the state and bringing world class researchers and research dollars to Texas universities," said Perry spokesman Travis Considine. "The Legislature has thoroughly reviewed the fund every session since its inception, and this session will be no different."
Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice and one of the most vocal critics of Perry's incentive funds, said he was ambivalent about Abbott's proposal.
"People could already apply to Emerging Technology Fund grants to poach a Nobel Laureate to their university, so that's not a huge change," he said. "It is a different emphasis, I think. Starting fresh is good news for the taxpayers and for accountability."
But, he added: "We're troubled with putting the remaining pot of [Emerging Technology Fund] money into the enterprise fund, because we think that fund has been mismanaged and operated in the dark."