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Time to support Senate Bill 11

Officials from both local universities fear that key projects could be put on hold if the Texas Legislature fails to act on a bill authorizing tuition revenue bonds to fund public university construction.

Senate Bill 11, filed Monday after SB 16 died in the regular session, outlines four University of North Texas system projects and one project at Texas Woman’s University.

If the bill is called into special session and given a favorable reception, UNT would receive $241.9 million in tuition revenue bonds and TWU would receive about $32 million.

The bill would partially fund a $51.3 million science and technology learning center at TWU and provide funding 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.

UNT Chancellor Lee Jackson said he remains hopeful that the bill will be considered because several higher education bills were passed during the legislative session.

“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.”

We agree. The projects outlined in the bill are needed to help both universities keep pace with growth. If the bill dies, most or all of these projects might have to be put on hold until the next legislative session.

We’d hate to see progress stalled on any front at either local university, especially in light of the circumstances surrounding this bill.

“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.”

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 the session, and the bill died.

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. The science and technology learning center — which would complete the science cluster being built on campus — would be put on hold until tuition revenue bonds can be requested in the next legislative session.

That would directly impact TWU’s ability to recruit and graduate students in science, technology, engineering and math, Stuart said.

At UNT, it is possible that one of the proposed projects could be completed without tuition revenue bond funding, Jackson said. However, that would take most if not all of the university’s resources and make it difficult to complete other projects.

If the bill doesn’t pass, Jackson 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.”

In our view, Senate Bill 11 is critical to our local universities’ progress, and we encourage our elected officials in Austin to support it in special session.