Texans should be well aware of the ever-growing movement to bring more transparency to the state’s institutions of higher education with Governor Perry leading the charge. Unfortunately, the Texas Senate failed the test of upholding accountability for our public universities, which have been less than eager to open up the ledgers for public view.
The “test” of which I refer to came in the form of SB 5 by Sen. Zaffirini, a bill that claims to facilitate efficient operations, reduce institutional costs and provide administrative flexibility to public universities by reducing reporting requirements. The House is set to hear its companion bill, HB 3517 by Rep. Dan Branch today.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Every good conservative loves increasing efficiency and reducing bureaucratic waste.
The problem is, that underneath the surface of a seemingly good bill are several terrible attempts to give public universities the shelter from transparency that has been staring them in the face for months now.
It should be noted that the author of the bill, Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), has been nothing but a lapdog for higher education administrators. Using her position as the Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, Senator Zaffirini vehemently disagreed with UT Board of Regents Chair Gene Powell for to recommending tuition cuts up to 50% and increased enrollment at the UT-Austin campus.
By rushing to the defense of UT-Austin’s unaudited spending on research, she’s demonstrated she has no interest in bringing true accountability to our institutions of higher education. It should come as no surprise then as to how such bad provisions made it onto the bill.
For example, the bill deletes provisions stating the governing board of the university must print an annual report of all money collected, all expenditures, and all money still on hand. The bill then exempts all university systems from required financial reporting to the Governor, Comptroller, Legislative Reference Library, State Auditor, and Legislative Budget Board starting in 2013.
But it gets even worse. Starting in 2013, unless the legislature requests otherwise, universities will no longer be required to produce an itemized budget for their operations each year that is given to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for distribution to the Governor’s Budgeting Office and Legislative Budget Board, and legislators as they request them.
Also on the chopping block are studies of the costs of attendance that are sent to all higher education committees and reports of money received from the Permanent School Fund and how the money was used.
Apparently their new motto for Higher Ed is “No financial reports, no operating budgets, no cost studies…no problem!”
Attempts to “facilitate efficient operations” are certainly a noble task when it comes to government, but eliminating the few tools of oversight over public universities we have is a disregard of fiscal responsibility and a slap in the face to all Texans demanding more transparency and accountability of their state and its institutions.
We’ve been told the House will make attempts at correcting the Senate’s deficiencies that would eliminate the few bits of much-needed transparency of higher education. Taxpayers will be watching closely to see if the House succeeds where the Senate has failed to protect their ability to hold our public universities accountable.
Dustin Matocha is the Social Media Coordinator for Empower Texans / Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.
Connect with Dustin on Twitter.