Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is finding out he may not have as much clout as he’d presumed.
In addition to being next in line to become governor if something happened to Greg Abbott, Patrick is also the presiding officer of the Texas Senate. That is an important job that can have a big effect on shaping the state’s budget.
In addition to appointing to committees and their chairmen, Patrick during the past year has released press statements on a bunch of things.
One in early October drew special attention.
Patrick cautioned that regents of the University of Texas System were considering raising tuition rates.
“It is my understanding that the University of Texas System board is discussing the framework for how they may raise tuition and fees in the future,” Patrick said in an Oct. 1 press statement.
I’d prefer they didn’t, Patrick indicated. After all, every dollar spent on higher education is a dollar that can’t be spent on other state needs.
“Texas higher education institutions are currently funded at historic levels,”
Patrick said. “The
(TRIP) funding was increased by more than $100 million over the previous biennium which provides match to private a state donations for research. “The budget increased overall higher education formula funding. The legislature also passed over $3 billion in tuition revenue bonds (TRBs),” Patrick said.
“It is my hope, instead of looking at ways to potentially raise tuition in the future, they will look for ways to make college education more affordable for students and families across Texas,” Patrick said.
In 2003, faced with a budget shortfall, and then-Gov. Rick Perry determined to balance the books through spending cuts rather than increasing taxes, the Legislature punted control of setting public university tuition rates to the institutions themselves. Repeated legislative attempts since then to take back control have gone nowhere.
“I encourage (the regents) to remember that we must keep the cost of college tuition at a level that is within reach of all Texans,” Patrick said. “With the dramatic increase in funding from the legislature this session, I am surprised that they are already looking at ways to raise tuition on students.”
The problem is that over the past half-century or so, the cost of a college degree has increased a lot.
And particularly at public universities, legislators in Texas and several other states haven’t kept up with their share of costs as they have increased. As a result, public and private universities cost a lot more than they used to.
One UT regent a few years back half-joked that the percentage of legislative funding of public universities had declined so much that they should no longer be called “state universities,” but rather “state-assisted universities.”
Also, it seems there is a difficulty for many legislators to understand the word “inflation.” UT has kept tuition and fees pretty steady since 2012.
But since then, according to the Consumer Price Index calculator of the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, it would take $103.59 to provide the same buying power in 2015 that $100 did in 2012.
The regents are talking about a 3.1 percent increase per year over the next two years.
“Any proposed increases are likely to take into account cost escalations due to inflation over the last few years and needs of greatest institutional priority,” said UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, “with a continuing emphasis on student affordability.”
Gov. Abbott, the new number one guy in state government, has made it a goal for Texas to have more top-notch public research universities. He was the driving force behind converting some of Rick Perry’s pet business incentive fund into the Texas Research Incentive Program.
For whatever reasons, most of the UT regents didn’t heed Patrick’s serious urging. On Oct 2. — the day after Patrick expressed his frugality wish — they voted 6-2 to approve a framework for considering proposals from UT’s 14 branches to raise tuition and fees over the next two-year spending period.
In other words, they decided that it was more important to try to provide what they considered enough money to pay for a quality education than to take a chance on dumbing down for a lack of funds.
We’ll see how all this plays out.
DAVE MCNEELY is a politial columnist. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 458-2963.