Texas Legislative Budget Board

The Texas House of Representatives’ chief budget writer said Wednesday he intends to keep amendments to the proposed state budget limiting the spending power of the UT System Board of Regents and UT System administration. 

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chairs the House Appropriations Committee and attached the amendments to the Senate’s budget bill in response to the board’s March 20 decision to conduct an external investigation of the UT Law School Foundation and UT School of Law. 

Lawmakers interpreted the investigation as a political move intended to oust University President William Powers Jr. and advised the board to allow the Texas Attorney General’s Office to conduct another investigation in order to avoid spending additional tax dollars.

Regents have since decided to follow that advice, but Pitts said he would keep the amendments while the budget conference committee meets.

“My fear is, if we take that out, that once we leave here, the board will continue acting the way did prior to the session,” Pitts said. “It’s really my intention to keep a watchful eye on the UT Board of Regents.”

One of Pitts’ amendments would allocate the $23.9 million originally intended to fund the UT System Administration during the 2014-15 biennium to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Doing such would require the coordinating board to transfer those funds to the System with permission from the Texas Legislative Budget Board and the governor’s office. 

The System could not use those funds to investigate its individual institutions or the administration of those institutions, or to request records from those bodies.

Under another amendment, the administration would not receive its share of the Available University Fund, a state endowment that funds institutions within the UT and A&M University systems.

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the System intends to continue discussions with Pitts in the hope that “a positive resolution can be reached.”

“However, were the amendments to remain in the bill, there is no doubt that the impact would be significant,” LaCoste-Caputo said. “Specific details would have to be determined if we come to that point.”

In addition to the amendments, legislators have sought to realign the board with what they consider the board’s proper governance role.

The Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency was relaunched to investigate the ongoing conflict between the board and UT-Austin, but has not met since an organizational meeting in March.

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, co-chairs the committee with state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. 

Branch said committee members have been reviewing information they requested from the System. He said the committee may schedule a meeting within the next few weeks, but could continue its work while the legislature is not in session.

Lawmakers have also sought to limit regents through legislation.

A bill filed by Seliger, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, would limit regents from “interfering” in the daily operations of universities under their purview. It would also prohibit regents who are appointed when the legislature is not in session from voting until regents have appeared before the Senate Nominations Committee. Gov. Rick Perry has appointed all sitting regents.

The House Higher Education Committee left the bill pending Wednesday. The Senate approved the bill 29-2.

Branch said he is unsure if Perry will sign the bill or if the House will pass it.

Branch said the bill would help quell conflicts between boards and university administrations statewide, although the bill was filed in response to controversy at the UT System.

“To me, while an incident often brings into focus what the statutory and constitutional and regental rules are, which is what this has done, we’re trying to step back and think broadly and make sure we’re doing something that’s good for all of Texas higher education going forward,” Branch said.

The Texas Legislature would adopt a budget of about $187 billion for the upcoming biennium, according to budget proposals released by the Texas Legislative Budget Board on Monday.

The Texas Legislative Budget Board, a permanent joint committee of the Texas Legislature charged with drafting budget and policy recommendations for legislative appropriations, released draft estimates of the House of Representatives and Senate budget proposals for the 2014-15 biennium Monday. Lawmakers are expected to file the proposals with the Legislature on Tuesday.

The House proposal allocates $15.6 billion to higher education, $13.5 billion of which comes from the state’s general revenue funds. While the Senate proposal allocates $15.8 billion to higher education, $13.6 billion of the Senate’s proposal comes from the state’s general revenue funds. The state allocated $10.2 billion from general revenue funds to higher education in 2011.

The House is proposing a $187.7 billion budget, which is a 1.2 percent decrease from the budget for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The proposal appropriates $89.2 billion in general revenue spending, which constitutes a 2 percent increase from the current budget.

The Senate is proposing a $186.8 billion budget, a 1.6 percent drop from the current estimated budget of $189.9 billion, and general revenue spending of $89 billion, a 1.8 percent increase from the current budget.

Printed on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013 as: Legislature proposes lower biennial budget