The Budget, McRaven, SXSW & Rick Perry
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has encouraged his chamber’s budget writer to dip into the so-called “Rainy Day Fund” to address the state’s budget challenges. This week House Appropriations Chair Rep. John Zerwas filed House Bill 2 that would access $1.4 billion from the fund. “I believe this is a better option than leaving $12 billion sitting in the bank while making deep cuts to higher education and significantly increasing health care premiums on retired teachers,” said Straus. “Our approach keeps spending low but also recognizes some very important priorities and some very real obligations.”
In other budget news this week, Gov. Abbott’s “signature higher education project, which aims to lure top researchers to Texas universities, is at risk of being defunded by the Legislature.” The Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI), for which Abbott had requested $40 million, was not funded in either the House or Senate budgets. The initial round of funds to launch the program came from the closure of Gov. Perry’s “Emerging Technology Fund” and was used to hire 11 top faculty to our state’s institutions. Abbott is fighting for the funding, and will host a reception at the Governor’s mansion this week to feature some of the researchers GURI has attracted.
This week, UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven announced an end to plans to expand the System into Houston. The land purchase had been the subject of much consternation from the Houston delegation of the Texas Legislature, and had become a distraction from other priorities the System and its campuses were focused on this Session. In a letter to McRaven, Board Chairman Paul Foster said of the move, “Your actions as a strong servant leader to direct full attention to helping each of our presidents succeed, and your willingness to recalibrate and adjust priorities, are very much appreciated.”
From March 10-19, tens of thousands of people will descend on Austin for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festival. Our state’s flagship institutions will bring their best and brightest to the interactive showcase to participate in what has become one of the world’s top venues for breakthrough innovation and technology. UT at SXSW will feature two days of panels, parties and exhibitions that will highlight the research, innovation and thought leadership of UT's faculty, students and programs. Texas A&M is joining SXSW for the first time and will host Texas A&M House to showcase art, science and technology from the school’s leading minds.
This week the Senate voted to confirm former Texas Governor Rick Perry as the U.S. Secretary of Energy. The Department has an important role to play in doling out federal R&D dollars, which could benefit Texas institutions if Perry were to steer projects toward his home state. The Department “runs the national laboratories, sets appliance standards, hands out loans and grants for basic research and early stage energy technologies from carbon capture and storage to battery technology” according to a Washington Post story on the confirmation.
Week of March 5, 2017
'Robin Hood' for Higher Ed?
As budget battles in the Legislature heat up, the question of whether or not lawmakers will tap into the Rainy Day Fund continues to be a hot topic of discussion at the capitol – and on the state’s editorial pages. The Eagle this week laid out the case for why lawmakers should access the fund for public and higher education needs, saying the fund should “not be sacrosanct” … “It would be a shame to let our students suffer because of a refusal to dip into the Rainy Day Fund.”Continue reading
Read my lips: No More Bills
Friday was the last day for Texas lawmakers to file a bill this legislative session, which brought about an expected flurry of activity. One bill, filed by Rep. J.M. Lozano, would limit higher education benefits for the children of veterans, a controversial issue killed in the 2015 Session. When lawmakers passed the provision (the Hazelwood Act) to allow veterans to pass their benefits to their dependents, it predicted a $10 million price tag – a figure, it turns out, was dramatically underestimated. The cost in 2015 was $178 million and is expected to increase. The state only picks up 20% of the tab, leaving the universities to pay for the rest. Lozano’s bill would limit benefits to veterans who served four years or more, and would expire the benefit 15 years after an honorable discharge, so it would only apply to kids born while their parents were on active duty.Continue reading