UT System, UT-Austin officials testify to Senate Finance Committee, request funds


Maria Arrellaga

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa requests $10 million in state general revenue funds from the Texas Senate Finance Committee to assist the “South Texas Initiative” on Monday afternoon. 

Joshua Fechter

University of Texas at Austin and UT System officials outlined major initiatives — including the consolidation of three System schools in the Rio Grande Valley and the construction of a new building for the Cockrell School of Engineering — for the Senate Finance Committee on Monday. 

Every legislative session, higher education officials testify before members of the Texas Legislature to vouch for funding, to explain upcoming projects and to provide insight into legislative proposals on higher education policy.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said the System will seek $10 million per year in state general revenue funds to assist the consolidation of UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center into one university and an accompanying medical school, which Cigarroa referred to as the “South Texas initiative.”

The UT System Board of Regents voted in December to commit $100 million over 10 years to the new university and medical school.

To support a UT medical school and teaching hospital in Austin, the University, the nonprofit Seton Family of Hospitals and the county’s hospital district, Central Health, formed a local arrangement that took funds from each organization to support the project. 

Cigarroa said the System is not requesting funds from the Legislature this session to fund the proposed UT-Austin medical school and teaching hospital, but he said the System cannot create a similar arrangement to fund the medical school in the Rio Grande Valley. 

“We are also asking for some matching funds because … the tax base in the Rio Grande Valley is not what it is [in Central Texas] and we do need some additional support from the state,” Cigarroa said.

Cigarroa said the System is submitting 16 additional projects to be funded by tuition revenue bonds, which received approval from the Board of Regents and must gain approval from the Legislature.

One project would replace the Engineering-Science Building with a new Engineering Education and Research Center, which would house the Cockrell School of Engineering.

This project would cost about $310 million from 2013 to 2018 and would be funded by a combination of Permanent University Fund bonds, philanthropic funds and tuition revenue bonds.

Addressing Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, President William Powers Jr. said the proposed engineering building is the University’s top priority in terms of construction projects.

In November, Zaffirini filed a bill in the Senate granting the University the authority to begin the project using tuition revenue bonds.

“Senator Zaffirini, we will build that building,” Powers said.

The Senate’s current budget proposal would allocate $483.8 million to UT over the biennium. The Legislature allocated $492.5 million in general revenue funds to UT in the last biennium.

The University requested $512.9 million in general revenue funds from the Senate for the 2014-15 biennium through the Legislative Appropriations Request, according to budget estimates available on the Legislative Budget Board’s website.

Printed on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 as: Budget proposals