Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asks Gov. Greg Abbott to add higher ed construction projects to third special session

Graduates at a Texas A&M University commencement ceremony at Reed Arena in College Station on Dec 17, 2020.

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Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday to add funding for public university construction projects through tuition revenue bonds to the Legislature’s special session call as soon as Wednesday, less than a week before the end of the this year’s third special session.

The Legislature failed to pass a similar bill during this year’s regular session that would have provided $4.3 billion in bonds to fund these projects.

“There have been requests and demands from schools across the state,” Patrick said in the letter to Abbott. “Both chambers stand willing to address the issue and provide the funds for tuition revenue bonds to our higher education institutions.”

A spokesperson for the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The last time the Legislature passed a bill funding higher education capital construction projects was in 2015.

For years, higher education leaders grew accustomed to lawmakers passing construction bills for their projects every other session. But the time between the passage of these bills has widened over the past two decades. Before 2015, state lawmakers had not approved a tuition revenue bond bill since 2006.

On the House floor during the regular legislative session, state Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, said many universities need to physically expand as student enrollment increases. Newer additions to existing buildings that incorporate better technology are also needed, he said, especially in the medical fields.

According to Murphy, the Texas State University System falls 1.4 million square feet short of how big it should be, the Texas A&M University System needs another 2.3 million square feet and the University of Texas System is operating without the 3 million square feet it could use to meet the needs of its growing student populations.

“The needs are very large today, much less a couple years from now,” Murphy said in May.

The focus during this third special session, which is only 30 days long, has been the redrawing of legislative district maps and determining how to spend $16 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding. The chambers are also considering two other issues: requiring transgender student athletes to play on teams based on the gender assigned to them at or near birth, and banning COVID-19 mandates. On Sept. 22, Abbott also added legislation that provides additional property tax relief to the third session call.

Disclosure: The Texas A&M University System, the Texas State University System and the University of Texas System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.