DALLAS — Texas higher education institutions could issue up to $3.2 billion in tuition-backed revenue bonds under a bill introduced for the legislative session that begins next week.
SB 272, introduced by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would provide bonding authority for 74 capital projects at 53 colleges and universities. Zaffirini chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee.
While every region of the state would share in the bond money, leaders in North Texas are particularly eager to see more money invested in the area’s state colleges and universities, which are expanding to satisfy growing demand.
Among the projects favored by Dallas is a plan to convert the old downtown Municipal Building into a law school for North Texas State University. The building is across the street from the Universities Center, where classes are offered by several state universities. Zaffarini’s bill would provide $46 million for renovations at the historic building.
Under the bill, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would rank the 74 projects based on need, research opportunities, graduation rates and other factors. The projects are divided among the several university systems operating in Texas, the largest being the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems.
Lawmakers gather in Austin on Jan. 11 for their biennial session that is scheduled to last for 140 days.
Overshadowing virtually every other issue will be the revenue shortfall for the next two fiscal years, which has been estimated as high as $25 billion for a state budget of $95 billion.
Texas public schools are facing deep cuts amid the budget crisis. Education is the largest expense lawmakers consider in every session. In previous sessions, education funding increases were limited to provide property-tax relief for the state’s residents.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry, Texas’ longest-serving governor, played down the budget gap during his re-election campaign while boosting the state’s comparatively healthy economy.
But with a contentious session ahead, the GOP-dominated Legislature is expected to veer strongly to the right in an effort to appeal to the Tea Party activists that have angrily protested any compromises with Democrats.
Democrats have been further marginalized by nationwide Republican gains in the November elections, which should benefit the GOP when it comes to redistricting.
Texas gained four congressional seats in the 2010 Census, with large population increases among Hispanics. However, the Republicans will seek to shift the traditionally Democratic voting bloc into districts that will favor the election of Republicans.
Due to the revenue shortfall, gambling promoters are expected to push hard for expanding gaming in the state with the possibility of options in tourism-oriented locations such as South Padre Island and South Texas.
Legalizing casinos would require amending the state constitution. To provide a proposed amendment for voters to consider, lawmakers would have to pass the measure by two-thirds majority in the House and Senate.