Parking committee suggestions to hike permit rates should not be given green light

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Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

The Parking Strategies Committee recently announced its report and recommendations for University parking, which include permit rate hikes for at least the next five years. These hikes were solicited in January 2013, when a group of 13 businesspeople released the Committee on Business Productivity’s report for UT. This report called for various rate hikes, privatization plans and budget cuts. The University administration has been faithfully implementing these recommendations despite campus opposition. The Shared Services plan, which called for eliminating 500 staff positions and centralizing the remaining workers (removing them from their home departments), was met with a rally, mass faculty letter, staff speak-outs and a student sit-in, all of which decried the plan as an undue step toward corporatization of the University. Corporatization is an openly stated goal of President William Powers Jr., who endorsed the Business Productivity recommendations and stated that the University ought to follow the “best business practices.”

On Tuesday, the parking committee presented its report at a campus-wide town hall meeting, at the Graduate Student Assembly meeting and at the Student Government meeting. The committee presented on Thursday at a Staff Council meeting. The permit rate hikes are not intended to fill in budget gaps, but simply to increase University revenue. This revenue will not return to the campus community, through employee wage increases or otherwise, and thus this move can only be understood as a business operation that seeks to increase profit from customers. (Bob Harkins, chair of the committee and associate vice president for campus safety and security, told the Texan it is to fund the construction of new parking garages, but this is not the same information that was presented at the town hall.) Indeed, Parking and Transportation Services is designed as a business to begin with, as its sole revenue stream is from paying customers. In FY 2013 - 2014, for example, PTS made about $1.1 million from citations, $2.7 million from permits and $11.7 million from parking facility fees — that is $15.5 million in total. 

This economic model leads to an antagonistic relationship between PTS and the University community it serves, as PTS can only increase revenue by charging the community more. The alternative would be to bring PTS into the public sphere by appropriating University funds to it — in FY 2013 - 2014, however, PTS received a whopping $0 from this coffer. So rather than abide by the cooperative mission of a public university, UT’s proposed permit rate hikes push PTS in a privatized direction. This is an openly stated goal, as the Parking Committee’s report states that the primary motivation is to tack toward market-level rates, which are higher than the University’s. For a public university concerned with affordability, this lesser cost is appropriate — for a business, it is simply lost revenue.

In fact, $0 is a misleading figure. To be more exact, PTS actually receives negative dollar amounts from the University coffer. In FY 2013 - 2014, it had $8 million in excess income over budgeted expenses, and this was returned to the University in its entirety, through debt service and transfers to various departments (such as UTPD) and reserves. PTS has had steadily increasing excess income since at least FY 2009 - 2010, when it was $6.7 million. Every year, however, this surplus has been drained by the University administration — the Parking Committee recommends intensifying this policy, and by Year 4 it has PTS in the red for over $200,000. This is not an unprecedented move by the corporatized administration. For FY 2013 - 2014, PTS had requested additional funds to prevent UT shuttle bus cuts but was denied even though there was a reserve fund of $800,000 from past PTS surpluses. As a result, Capital Metro announced cuts to shuttle routes in the fall of 2013, and these cuts especially impacted financially precarious graduate students.

However, the corporatized University administrators have outright contempt for the idea of affordability. In a Daily Texan news article, the Parking Committee’s chair, Bob Harkins, cited the 2012 Campus Master Plan’s recommendations as another motivation for the permit rate hikes. Harkins notes that these recommendations included the replacement of surface parking lots with more expensive garage structures. However, the plan also states that this will “eliminate spaces that currently provide relatively low-cost options for faculty and staff” — Harkins doesn’t mention this, which is curious given that he was on the committee for the Master Plan as well. The permit rate hikes will obviously exacerbate this affordability gap, but the Parking Committee’s report does not include any discussion on these issues. Whether this is contempt or simply negligence, it is clear that affordability is not a priority of the University administration. 

For students, it’s worth noting that “student leaders” like Student Government President Kori Rady match the administration’s priorities – Rady recently told the Texan that “there’s nothing [they] can do” to prevent PTS from raising parking rates. This blasé attitude is consistent from student leaders on affordability issues, such as tuition hikes. Rather than take initiative to discuss tuition, they consistently wait for UT System intervention, whenever that may happen. Last year, an ad hoc tuition committee pushed through tuition hikes within a three-week time frame, and then-Senate of College Councils President Andrew Clark stated that hikes were inevitable because “we are at the mercy of the UT System.” This failure of leadership continues, as Rady told the Texan he is unconcerned that the student leaders haven’t formed a new tuition committee this semester, and Senate of College Councils President Geetika Jerath said they may simply repeat the ad hoc process.

This contempt for affordability — whether about Shared Services, tuition hikes or parking rates — is particularly outrageous because the administrators have alternative and direct ways of increasing revenue. The most obvious is to request additional funds from the UT System’s massive Permanent University Fund, which currently holds over $17 billion — this is the largest public university endowment in the country. Alternatively, an in-house solution could address the fact that UT has some of the highest rates of executive pay in the country — over 100 (and increasing) University administrators earn more than $200,000. An administrative salary cap at $200,000, an amount that is still excessive compared to the average staff worker salary of $52,000, would annually save $20 million in revenue. The Parking Committee projects that its recommendations will generate $40 million in 10 years — the salary cap, which puts a minor dent in inequality at a public university, would generate $200 million in that same time. Those who want to fight for a public university can sign the petition against the hikes. 

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.