For the past decade, UTMB has been dreaming of a new building to house its educational programs—specifically, an interprofessional educational center that focuses on shared lab, learning and simulation programs to provide the most appropriate learning environment in which to train future care providers. That vision is one more step closer to reality with action taken by the Senate on Tuesday.
House Bill 100 had been approved by the House and sent to the Senate; the Senate had its own version of an omnibus facility construction bill that would permit the new construction and remodeling of educational/research buildings on campuses across the state. During the past two legislative sessions, similar proposals died a slow and painful death in the waning days of the legislative process. But this year, after a decade of drought in construction funding, the Senate agreed (in part) with the House, passed out its version of the construction funding bill, and sent it back to the House for conference.
Discussion regarding the construction of new facilities (and remodeling of outdated facilities) was heated, with almost everyone weighing in with their version of what should or should not be done. Senator Schwertner proposed an amendment that would have linked his proposal for a tuition increase cap to the building appropriation. Others, like Senators Kolkhorst and Ellis, proposed that tuition be re-regulated. Although the rhetoric was extensive, the bill ended up passing with only five Senators opposed: Birdwell, Burton, Hall, Huffines and Van Taylor. Senator Larry Taylor of Galveston County voted for the bill; he has also chaired the Senate Education Committee and served as a leading proponent for the investment in higher education space.
For UTMB the passage (and further tweaking of the bill by the conference committee) is quite meaningful. UTMB has had a 43 percent increase in student enrollment over the past four years. Since Hurricane Ike in 2008, enrollment has increased from 2,600 to over 3,200. This substantial growth (ranked 5th in the entire nation among universities) continues to tax facilities on our Galveston campus.
As UTMB wraps up construction of the new Jennie Sealy Hospital and the Clinical Services Wing, as well as final remodeling of the John Sealy Hospital, efforts will focus on the design of and fundraising for the new Interprofessional Educational Building. Tuition Revenue Bond funding from the state will be a huge help in building the new facility.
Tax Relief and Other Hot Items!
The House and Senate are still working out the mysterious “tax relief” measures; the Senate has wanted an increase in the homestead exemption, but the House has favored a sales tax reduction. A compromise will likely contain a homestead exemption decrease and a reduction in the business margins tax. We should know the favored formula within a few days.
Higher education formula funding is also scheduled for a 3 percent increase; details are imminent. The chambers also are sorting out the methodology for distributing special research funds for higher education institutions through the Texas Research University Fund (TRUF) for the flagships, the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP) and the newly proposed Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI). So, among the TRUF, TRIP and GURI, the state’s research universities should see new sources of potential funding available to them. Proposed changes also would provide funds from the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) for a new category of university research commercialization awards. Next will come a proposal to end the acronyms in legislation!
On the Agenda
On Wednesday, the House will discuss Senate Bill 18, which proposes new Graduate Medical Education funding for the state. HB 3078 also will be heard; this bill addresses a uniform pre-nursing curriculum. HB 3348 does likewise, along with authorizing the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to allow certain public junior colleges to offer baccalaureate degree programs (especially nursing).
With just a few days left in the 84th regular session, much remains to be done and much of it is of interest to UTMB and its mission. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more.