Lt. Gov.

Greg Abbott waves to supporters at the inaugural parade Tuesday afternoon. Abbott is the first new governor of Texas in 14 years, replacing fellow Republican Rick Perry.

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

As Texans from across the state gathered at the Capitol to watch Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s inauguration Tuesday, the duo emphasized their goals of limiting government involvement in job growth and education.

“We will promote policies that limit the growth of government — not the size of your dreams,” Abbott said in his speech. 

Abbott emphasized that he believes Texas must lead the nation in distancing state politics from federal influence.

“As governor, I will continue my legacy of pushing back against Washington — if they spend too much, regulate too much or violate our state sovereignty,” Abbott said. 

Abbott said his path to the governor’s office was an improbable one. 

“I am living proof that we are living in a state where a young man’s life can literally be broken in half, and yet, he can still rise up and be governor of this great state,” Abbott said.  

According to Abbott, state leaders must focus on improving education — and unshackling education from overly restrictive federal control — in order for job growth to continue in Texas.

“These great minds will not be molded by a cookie-cutter approach of teaching,” Abbott said. “Instead, they will be the product of great teachers that recognize the value and uniqueness of each student.”

Patrick emphasized similar issues in his inauguration speech: border security, lower taxes, education and Second Amendment rights. He also said he would work to reduce the cost of attending college.

“In higher education, we must reduce the cost of skyrocketing tuition that is pricing many middle class families out of college and saddling students with huge debt upon graduation,” Patrick said.

Patrick also included a running call-and-response chant in his speech, continually asking the crowd, “What day is it?” and prompting the response, “It’s a new day in Texas.”

Some Texans, such as Ed Stein from Fredricksburg, drove hours to attend the day’s events.

“I hope that they live up to what they say,” Stein said. 

The Longhorn Band also attended the ceremony, playing classic songs such as “The Eyes of Texas,” at the ceremony.

“It is an honor for the Longhorn Band to be invited to participate in historic events such as these,” Longhorn Band director Robert Carnochan said. “The fact that Governor Abbott is a UT alumnus makes it that much more special.”

Capping off a week of drama between the Texas Legislature and the UT System Board of Regents, board chairman Gene Powell released a statement saying Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s remarks that the regents are allegedly micromanaging UT “surely had to be the result of misinformation and were either incorrect or inaccurate.”

“I know my fellow regents; they are outstanding individuals and I stand behind them fully,” Powell said.

On Monday, the Legislature passed three resolutions honoring UT President William Powers Jr. in response to a Feb. 13 regents meeting during which regents intensely questioned him on a number of topics.

During a ceremony on the Senate floor, Dewhurst offered an emotional defense of Powers and said he received numerous complaints that the regents were subverting Powers’ authority, disrupting the System’s governance structure and engaging in “character assassination” against him.

Powell said he and Dewhurst met several times over the past few days to address Dewhurst’s concerns.

“I join him in the desire to move forward constructively on these issues, and we have agreed to keep in close contact in the days and weeks to come,” Powell said in the Friday statement.

Powell’s statement comes two days after Dewhurst announced that he and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus will relaunch a joint oversight committee formed in 2011 to examine regents’ proper governance role over individual institutions.

Dewhurst said Wednesday that the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency will be made up of the higher education committees from both houses and additional members to examine regents’ proper governance role in an institution.

Wednesday afternoon, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and Senate Higher Education Committee chairman, filed a bill that would limit university boards of regents’ authority over the affairs of individual universities within a system.

Seliger’s bill would amend state law to say that all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards of those university systems fall under the authority of the individual institutions of that system. Nine other senators co-authored the bill, including four members of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Two of the bill’s co-authors, state Sens. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Kirk Watson, D-Austin, sit on the Senate Committee on Nominations, which must confirm Gov. Rick Perry’s appointments to the board of regents. Thursday, Perry appointed Ernest Aliseda of McAllen and Jeff Hildebrand, a UT alumnus from Houston, to six-year terms on the board. He also reappointed board vice chairman Paul Foster.

Published on February 25, 2013 as "Chairman denies regent misconduct". 

State Sen. Kel Seliger files bill to limit power of Board of Regents

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed a bill that would limit the power of regents over individual universities within the system.
The bill, co-authored by nine other senators, would amend state law to say that all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards of those university systems fall under the authority of the individual institutions of that system.

The bill comes on the same day Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced a joint committee to investigate the governance role of boards of regents over their respective university systems.

Seliger, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, said in a statement that the bill aims to preserve institutional autonomy in the same way the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects state sovereignty from overreach by the federal government.

"It was made clear on Monday that university governance and allegations of micromanagement by regents is an issue the Senate takes very seriously," Seliger said.

On Monday, the Texas Legislature passed three resolutions defending and honoring UT President William Powers Jr. after some members of the UT System Board of Regents intensely questioned Powers on a number of topics at their Feb. 13 meeting. Speaking on the Senate floor Monday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he received numerous complaints that the regents were subverting Powers' authority and disrupting the System's governance structure.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is expected to release details Wednesday on the Texas Legislature’s involvement in the ongoing tension between President William Powers Jr. and members of the UT System Board of Regents.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Dewhurst said the Legislature will conduct hearings that will investigate allegations that regents are micromanaging Powers’ administration but has not decided on a forum for those hearings, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

The announcement came a day after the Legislature passed three resolutions honoring Powers. During a ceremony on the Senate floor, Dewhurst and multiple senators defended Powers’ record and decried his detractors.

“I believe in reform and I know Bill Powers believes in reform,” Dewhurst said. “That’s why I’m particularly troubled when I see UT regents go around this man. I see them trying to
micromanage the system.”

Josh Havens, Perry’s deputy press secretary, did not directly comment on the Legislature’s plan to conduct hearings on the regents and Powers, but said Perry is pleased with recent events involving the University, such as the regents’ decision to direct universities to offer a four-year fixed-rate tuition plan to students.

“Gov. Perry highly respects each of the board members, and trusts them to manage the system in a manner that is in the best interests of the students and the taxpayers,” Havens said.

On Friday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named the seven members of the Senate Higher Education Committee, which is expected to deal with topics that will directly impact the University.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the University will keep an eye on the committee, which consists of four Republicans and three Democrats. He said the University expects the committee to address a fixed tuition bill, which would require universities to offer students fixed-rate tuitions over a four-year period. The bill proposing fixed tuition has been filed in the Texas House of Representatives.

“We look forward to working with them this semester on issues that are important to the University,” Susswein said.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, replaced state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, as chair in October 2012. Zaffirini, who chaired the committee since its inception in 2009, will serve on the committee as a member.

Jenifer Sarver, spokeswoman for the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, said she believes Zaffirini will continue to advocate for higher education and said she views Seliger as a friend of UT.

“Under [Seliger’s] leadership, we hope the Legislature will restore funding for higher education, stand for quality, good governance and transparency from our governing boards, and stand against ideological meddling and untested ‘reform’ efforts on our campuses,” Sarver said.

Seliger has not filed any bills related to higher education during this session. However, he has expressed interest in examining funds for the TEXAS Grant Program, which supplies grants to college students with financial need. Funds for the program remain unchanged from the levels approved by the Legislature during the previous session.

Seliger has also expressed opposition to the state’s Top 10 Percent Law, which requires public universities to automatically admit students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. The Legislature modified the automatic admission program for UT in 2009, allowing it to automatically admit enough students to fill 75 percent of its total admitted students under the Top 10 Percent Law instead of any top 10 percent graduate. For the current crop of graduating high school students, UT will likely admit about the top 7 percent of seniors.

During this session, Zaffirini filed a series of bills related to higher education, including a bill that would revamp the B-On-Time Loan program, which provides zero-interest student loans that may be forgiven if students complete their degrees within four years for a four-year degree and five years for a five-year degree, maintain a 3.0 grade point average and do not exceed their degree plan by more than six credit hours.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, will serve as vice-chair. Last year, Watson led a citywide campaign to pass Proposition 1, a ballot initiative that raised property taxes collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district, to help fund the establishment of a UT medical school and teaching hospital.

State Senators Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, Dan Patrick, R-Houston and Royce West, D-Dallas, will also serve on the committee.

Last week, Birdwell filed a bill that would allow concealed carry license holders to carry concealed handguns while on university campuses and would prevent universities from establishing rules prohibiting concealed carry. President Powers came out against the bill the same day.

Duncan, Patrick, Seliger, West and Zaffirini will also serve on the Senate Finance Committee, which will analyze proposals for the state’s higher education budget for the 2014-15 biennium when it begins to meet Wednesday.

Published on January 23, 2013 as "Seven senators named to education committee". 

In an unexpected reshuffling of state Senate committee chairmanships, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst replaced a longtime Democrat from the Higher Education Committee.

Dewhurst announced a reorganization of Senate committee appointments for the upcoming legislative session Thursday morning, replacing the former Higher Education chair, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, with Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

Zaffirini was appointed to chair the Senate Committee on Government Organization, which will oversee reviews of state agencies through the sunset legislation.

Seliger said the Higher Education Committee will continue to focus on high-quality and affordable education.

“I don’t think the committee’s priorities will change, because the priorities of higher education in Texas don’t change,” Seliger said.

He said the committee will not push programs that align with committee agendas from previous sessions.

“We won’t be strictly looking at specific programs,” Seliger said. “We are charged to look at education in the larger sense. We will focus on the overall goal of education and look for what we can do to assist universities in reaching that goal.”

The Daily Texan spoke with Zaffirini about her goals for the upcoming session, all of which revolved around higher education.

Zaffirini said she planned to pursue outcome-based funding for universities, a model endorsed by Gov. Rick Perry earlier this week. Outcome-based funding would tie the number of graduating students to 10 percent of an institution’s funding.

Zaffirini also said she hoped to increase funding for state financial aid programs after major cuts slashed aid for students during the previous legislative sessions.

“Part of affordability is financial aid, which the Legislature has reduced,” Zaffirini said. “I’m hoping to restore some of that funding now that we don’t have the same dire circumstances. It’s important that we identify how much a quality education costs and what the costs are for students.”

A champion of affordable higher education, Zaffirini served as chair of the Higher Education Committee since its inception in 2009. She chaired the Higher Education Subcommittee beginning in 2005 before it was upgraded to a regular committee. 

Zaffirini will continue to serve on the Higher Education Committee and the Subcommittee on Higher Education Funding as a regular member. She will also continue to co-chair the Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency with Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

Seliger said it is too early to talk about increasing funding to any program.

“Every area needs increased funding right now,” he said. “With increased expectations of higher education, we will work with and talk to universities about appropriations before moving forward.”

Seliger previously served as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting during the 82nd legislative session.

Seliger’s appointment to the Higher Education Committee aims “to maximize the benefits of his interest in education and workforce development and his ability to work with all members,” according to a statement released by Dewhurst.

“This upcoming session will be difficult,” Dewhurst said in the statement. “As a lifelong businessman, I have constantly tried to challenge my colleagues and myself through new leadership opportunities and rotating assignments that require fresh conservative thinking and conservative solutions.”

Dewhurst recently lost a Texas primary runoff election. Republican Ted Cruz beat Dewhurst in August, becoming the party’s nominee for Texas Senator.

Printed on Friday, October 5, 2012 as: Education board shuffles: New academic outlook arises from redistribution of committee positions

Legislators want to ensure transparency and impartiality in university boards of regents with a new committee after learning officials were meeting with Gov. Rick Perry behind closed doors, said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, to The Daily Texan.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, formed the Texas Joint Committee for Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency last month to discuss higher education policy decisions openly and protect the high quality of Texas universities. In recent months, Perry and interest groups such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation have pushed for separation between research and academic funding, which legislators said could harm universities’ goals.

“We must do all that we can to ensure that these public institutions operate transparently and with world-class leadership,” Straus said in a press release. “The talented members that we are appointing understand that effective university governing systems enable our students to compete on the global stage.”

Zaffirini, a UT alumna and chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, was appointed co-chair of the committee and said various universities’ alumni, faculty members and administrators reached out to legislators directly regarding Perry’s approach to governing higher education and the direction of their boards of regents.

Various emails media outlets acquired through the Texas Public Information Act show Perry has been personally urging regents to adopt an agenda set forth by Jeff Sandefer, a member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Zaffirini said Sandefer has single-handedly tried to change higher education in the state by separating research from university funding.

“Texas Public Policy [Foundation] thought tax payer’s money should not be used for research and recommended that universities go under Sunset Review,” Zaffirini said. “It was an outrageous recommendation.”

Zaffirini said teaching and learning happen at colleges, while teaching, learning and research happen at universities — a crucial distinction between the two.

“The goal of the committee will be to make things transparent and focus on doing some back finding while hearing testimonies regarding the direction of higher education,” said co-committee chairman Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.
The committee also plans to monitor all university systems’ boards of regents and ensure they all go through a proper orientation and training process.

“A regent is not a CEO but an appointed official responsible for policy,” Zaffirini said. “Every regent should understand the concept of shared governance and must support their universities’ presidents and chancellors and not have personal or political agendas. Change must be the result of thoughtful collaboration.”

Zaffirini said emails have been released that indicate Sandefer had been meeting with UT regents before they were appointed and that Sandefer personally recommended a few regents to Perry who now serve.

UT System spokesman Matt Flores said he was not allowed to comment on the future of the joint committee, but confirmed it is the regents’ job to set policy, while it is the chancellor’s job to implement it.

Zaffirini said she had a problem with how Perry was pursuing higher education initiatives. Zaffirini said she hopes many voices will participate in the conversation about molding higher education in the months to come.

The new committee will release its initial report by January 2013, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will compile a better practice report to examine the actions of other higher education institutions around the country.
Zaffirini said she believes university faculty and administrations will uphold academic standards while the committee works to resolve differences between regents’ goals and those of legislators and educators.

“We will work with the lieutenant governor and committee members to turn this negative into a positive,” Zaffirini said. “The committee will come up with positive solutions to the problem while allowing everyone to participate in
the process.”

Texas Republicans — including Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus — ran and won on a platform that promised a balanced state budget without new taxes.

State budget and politics experts said Wednesday the legislative session may be just as painful for Republicans as election night was for Democrats if they balance the budget with huge cuts to education and healthcare. The budget shortfall could be as much as $25 billion, or about 30 percent of state spending based on the current budget.

The reduction of Democrats in the Texas House means that Republicans will take sole responsibility for consequences of significant budget cuts, said Dave McNeely, a retired political columnist for the Austin American-Statesman.

“Nov. 2 was a bad day to be a Texas Democrat, and the day the next legislative session opens will be a bad day to be a Republican,” McNeely said. “The cuts are going to be savage — Texas already runs frugally and if you’re trying to make up $25 billion with just spending cuts, it’s going to be very difficult.”

Spending on education and health and human services makes up about 75 percent of the budget — eliminating all other spending still wouldn’t completely close the budget gap.

“There is literally no way to balance this budget with cuts alone,” said Dick LaVine, a senior budget analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “There are ways to raise money that might be acceptable to the governor if they’re not called tax increases; like fee and tuition increases.”

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education, said it wouldn’t be surprising to see an another 5- to 10-percent reduction in funding to high priority budget items such as universities and public schools.

“You couldn’t make the limitations we’d have to make to balance the budget if you didn’t make [meaningful] cuts to the two largest areas of the budget,” Branch said, referring to education and social services. “Our [funding] for our highest priorities is going to have to shrink because the budget is going to have to shrink.”

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said that fewer Democrats wouldn’t make a difference in what cuts are made and how they are made.

“It was in the hands of the Republicans before,” he said.

Sticking with the strategy of significant spending cuts also carries political risks for the Republicans, said Sherri Greenberg, interim director of the LBJ School’s Center for Politics and Governance.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature closed a $10 billion budget shortfall by cutting spending — including reducing the number of children on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which subsidizes healthcare for children of low-income families. Greenberg said that decision will hurt Republican representatives in swing districts during the next two elections.