Governor draws the line
Among Gov. Rick Perry’s slew of vetoes Friday were two bills targeting Texas public universities’ administrative power and funding, denying the UH System $250,000 in special programs support.
The governor made several line-item vetoes in House Bill 1025, a key budget bill of the session, rejecting a series of special funding requests to multiple higher education institutions. Perry’s vetoes denied the University $100,000 for the William P. Hobby Jr. School of Public Affairs and UH-Downtown $150,000 for its Community Development Project.
According to Perry’s veto statement, “the University did not request this special item in its Legislative Appropriations Request for FY 2014-15. If the William P. Hobby Jr. School of Public Affairs is a priority, the University can use its $3.8 million appropriation for institutional enhancement.”
Perry likewise prefaced his line-item vetoes for all higher education special item funding with a lengthy explanation.
“Some special items are initially requested to provide start-up funds for new academic programs, but once funded, they seldom go away,” Perry said. “One institution has four short-term special items that have been funded for the last 30 years. Institutions are rarely held accountable for these funds, which is why many of them stay in the budget, year after year, even after their purpose is no longer clear. This is not the best use of hard-earned tax dollars.”
As public universities struggle with the rising cost of tuition, Perry explained that those vetoes are his efforts to combat rising tuition.
“Because of the growth in special item funding, there is less state money to teach college students, which contributes to rising tuition,” Perry said.
Students, like political science senior Diane Stout, believe Perry is using a false argument to keep crucial funding for reasons unclear.
“It is especially worrisome for me, as a public university student, that he says that (special programs funding) is not the best use of hard earned tax dollars. Even if they are start-up special projects, specialization of fields are necessary for most degrees,” Stout said.
“He’s also saying he would use the funding to cut tuition but doesn’t seem to be doing that either. I’m confused as to where the money is going.”
Other universities’ requests that were denied by the vetoes include Texas A&M International University with its $2 million request for the petroleum engineering program, University of Texas at Austin with its $1.5 million request for the Department of Mexican-American Studies, as well as smaller appropriations for the University of North Texas and Prairie View A&M University.
Senate Bill 15, the second higher education bill vetoed by Perry, aimed to rein in regent power after accusations of micromanaging UT and harassing its president, Bill Powers, were supported by legislators against the UT System Board of Regents.
The governor’s veto of this higher education oversight bill, which included a provision that regents could not fire a university president without a recommendation from a chancellor, caused many heated discussions Friday night.
Yet Perry, who appoints university regents, said that they will keep all their power and authority.
“Limiting oversight authority of a board of regents is a step in the wrong direction,” Perry said in a statement Friday. “History has taught us that the lack of board oversight diminishes accountability and provides fertile ground for organizational malfeasance.”
The bill would have also required that university governing board regent appointments be approved by the Senate before they could vote on personnel or governing board matters and furthermore would have prevented interim appointments.
Although SB 15 was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers and underwent a number of amendments after negotiations with the governor’s office, the bill was still vetoed, provoking bipartisan outrage.
Sen. Kel Seliger, the author of the bill, described the veto as a blow to the state’s public universities.
“Given the continued lack of transparency and persistent conflicts, this legislation clearly was necessary, due in no small part to some of Governor Perry’s appointees,” Seliger said.
“The decision to veto SB 15 ensures that the conflicts, controversies and lack of transparency will continue. It harms the reputation of Texas’ world class public universities and hinders their ability to attract the best students, faculty and administrators to this great state. ”