SENATE BILL WOULD CREATE NEW RESEARCH FUND FOR TEXAS UNIVERSITIES
(AUSTIN) — Major state university systems outside of UT and Texas A&M would get millions in new research dollars off of the dividends paid by a new university investment fund contemplated by the Senate Finance Committee on Monday. In 1876, the Legislature granted 2.1 million square miles in west Texas to the state's two flagship institutions, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University. Proceeds from mineral rights on this land are paid into the Permanent University Fund (PUF), which distributes investment income between the two institutions, with UT-Austin getting two-thirds of those dividends. As more state university systems have grown into prominence, there has been increased focus on the question of how fair it is for two campuses to reap the benefits of a 150-year-old land grant over some of the best producing petroleum fields in the nation. This session, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick made creation of a new fund one of his top priorities, and on Monday, Senate Finance Chair and Houston Senator Joan Huffman laid out that plan in the form of Senate Bill 19.
Senator Carol Alvarado of Houston's bill would make the possession of an unconnected catalytic converter a crime.
The Senate draft budget includes $2.5 billion to create the Texas University Fund. Combined with other existing university funds, Huffman told members the fund will have a starting endowment of around $3.4 billion. These funds would be distributed between Texas Tech, the University of Houston, Texas State University, and the University of North Texas, and could be used to fund private or federal research projects at each institution. Biannual earnings from this fund are projected to be about $240 million at first, according to Harrison Keller, the state's Commissioner of higher education. This pales in comparison to the billions earned every biennium through the PUF, but Keller said this is an investment with an eye towards the future. "It would be significantly less than the PUF generates at this time," he said. "The intent, as the chair laid out, would be to create a new fund that would grow over time so that if we look out decades, Texas would have another fund that would enable those institutions that don't qualify for the PUF to be able to be nationally competitive."
Funding would come in two tiers, a base amount granted to each institution, with a second tier based on performance. Texas Tech and the University of Houston systems would each receive one-third of available base funding, and Texas State and the University of North Texas would split the remaining third. Money from the performance tier would be distributed based on how the number of federal or private research projects attracted by each system and the number of doctoral degrees awarded to graduates. "This is a significant investment in higher ed institutions in Texas," said Huffman. "The state must continue to support institutions of higher education that do not have alternative sources of revenue to further achieve national prominence as major research universities."
In session today, the Senate approved a bill that would make the possession of a loose catalytic converter itself a crime. Catalytic converter theft has skyrocketed in Texas lately, with thieves sliding under cars to cut out the emissions-reducing devices to get at the grams of rare earth metals inside. Converters can be stolen in just a few minutes, meaning even cars parked in commercial parking lots are at risk. Law enforcement testimony in committee on this bill indicated that unless caught in the act, it's almost impossible to prosecute suspects. It has become a violent crime as well, said bill author and Houston Senator Carol Alvarado, one that cost the life of her constituent Harris County Deputy Darren Almendarez, who was shot and killed off-duty when he confronted a trio of thieves as they attempted to remove the converter from his personal vehicle while it was parked at a grocery store. Alvarado's SB 224, would make even the possession of an unconnected catalytic converter a crime, and one that would be enhanced if a suspect is apprehended in possession of a firearm. It also goes after those who buy and sell these converters, putting restrictions on who can warehouse and trade these devices and requiring meticulous record keeping of transactions between businesses.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, April 4 at 11 a.m.