Multibillion-dollar campus construction program perishes at end of legislative session

Posted Tuesday, May. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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A $2.7 billion state bond package that would have financed expansion projects at more than a half dozen universities in North Texas died on the final day of the legislative session despite frantic last-minute effort to save it.

“We couldn’t rescue it,” said State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, sponsor of the state’s first tuition revenue bond package in seven years. “We tried.”

Zaffirini said she will try to resurrect the proposal in a special session that Gov. Rick Perry called immediately after the 83rd Legislature adjourned its biennial 140-day regular session on Monday.

Collapse of the tuition revenue bond bond package would erase $350 million for projects at fast-growing North Texas institutions, including the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth and the University of Texas at Arlington.

“It got stuck over there [in the House],” said state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills. “I don’t think this mistake will happen again. Several campuses will miss getting something they thought they would get.”

The bond legislation appeared doomed late Sunday when the two chambers couldn’t settle the differences even though senior lawmakers tried to salvage the measure.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said it was “like showing up late with a plug for the Titanic.”

The proposed package would be the first since 2006 and was designed to finance a vast backlog of construction projects at nearly 60 institutions. Dozens of lawmakers have had an intense interest in the bonds because of their impact on home-district institutions.

North Texas universities, all of which have seen record enrollment growth, are “really, really counting” on the construction bonds, UNT Chancellor Lee Jackson told the Star-Telegram earlier this month.

Area projects

Tuition revenue bonds targeted for North Texas include:

• $66.6 million for an interdisciplinary research building at the UNT Health Science Center.

• $64.3 million for renovating and expanding a life science building at UTA.

• $73.6 million for a college of visual arts and design facility at the main UNT campus at Denton.

• $56 million for a library and student success center at UNT-Dallas.

• $56 million to the UNT system for college of law building renovation.

• $37.9 million for a new science and technology center at Texas Woman’s University at Denton.

The 20-year bonds, which would cost the state approximately $450 million over the next two years, would help targeted state universities expand and improve facilities to meet burgeoning student populations

The growth has been especially pronounced in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, the fourth most populous region in the country.

Staff writer Anna M. Tinsley contributed to this report.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin bureau chief, 512-739-4471 Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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