Though the regular legislative session has concluded, local university officials remain hopeful that a bill to authorize tuition revenue bonds for public university construction projects may be called up for a vote in a special session.
Senate Bill 11 was filed Monday after SB 16 died in the regular session. Four construction projects at the University of North Texas system and one project at Texas Woman’s University are outlined in the bill and would rely on tuition revenue bonds as a funding source.
If the governor considers the bill during the special session, UNT would receive $241.9 million in tuition revenue bonds and TWU would receive about $32 million. If it dies, most or all of these projects will be put on hold until the next legislative session.
UNT Chancellor Lee Jackson said he remains hopeful because several higher education bills passed during the legislative session and both the House and Senate looked favorably on the bill.
“We are cautiously optimistic that this subject might be added to a special session, and if so, it could be favorably acted on,” Jackson said. “In the context of a successful session, it makes sense that this would also be addressed.”
SB 16 was in the final stages of approval when the session ended. The Senate passed the original version of the bill, and it was amended and then passed in the House. The amended version, which added $300 million in projects, went back to the Senate but did not pass.
A conference committee of the House and Senate did not meet by the end of session, and the bill died.
“The House and the Senate leaders were very, very close on the details of the package,” Jackson said. “There was not opposition to the concept — everyone agreed that this is a good time [to build], when interest rates are low and construction costs are still relatively low.”
If the tuition revenue bonds are not passed, TWU Chancellor Ann Stuart said it would hurt the progress of science, technology, engineering and math programs on campus, as the money requested would partially fund a $51.3 million science and technology learning center. If not passed, the building will be put on hold until tuition revenue bonds can be requested in the next legislative session.
“Tuition revenue bonds are important to us because our request is for a science and technology learning center, and that would really complete the science cluster that we have been building on campus,” Stuart said.
That directly contributes to TWU’s ability to recruit and graduate students in science, technology, engineering and math, she said.
At UNT, it is possible that one of the proposed projects could be completed without tuition revenue bonds funding, Jackson said. However, that would take most if not all of the university resources and make it difficult to complete other projects.
In the bill, funding would be provided for the UNT College of Visual Arts and Design Building, UNT Health Science Center Interdisciplinary Research Building, UNT Dallas Library and Student Success Center and the UNT System College of Law Building.
While Jackson said he couldn’t predict what the construction proposals would look like in two years if the bill is not passed, he said it would hurt UNT and other universities that are facing growing enrollment and space constrictions.
“It will affect UNT’s ability to house its growing enrollment and attract successful research faculty,” he said. “You can’t recruit successful scientists and researchers without adequate research facilities.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.