While the special session may be focused solely on redistricting for now, that isn’t stopping the chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee from proposing to raid the Economic Stabilization Fund for new ivory towers at public universities.

Based on his voting record, State Sen. Kel Seliger (R–Amarillo) has either failed to take the time to learn why the Economic Stabilization Fund exists, or just doesn’t care.

In 1988, voters created the ESF to protect against unforeseen shortfalls in general revenue, from a severe economic downturn or natural disaster for instance. Here’s the exact language of the constitutional amendment that voters authorized that year:

“The constitutional amendment establishing an economic stabilization fund in the state treasury to be used to offset unforeseen shortfalls in revenue.”

Was there a shortfall in revenue this session? No. In fact there was $13 billion in new revenues from the previous session, $8 billion more than expected. Mr. Seliger of course voted to spend all of it, and raid the ESF for even more to pay for a water fund that hasn’t yet been authorized.

Of course, a $4 billion drawdown of the ESF on top of passing the largest budget in state history isn’t enough spending for a big spender like Mr. Seliger.

He’s now proposing to drain even more money from the ESF to pay for new buildings on college campuses!

Not on water. Not on roads. University buildings…

Mr. Seliger is arguing that he’s simply trying to pay for the buildings up-front as opposed to going into more debt with tuition revenue bonds, as Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D–Laredo) tried and failed to do during the regular session.

It’s a false premise.

Maybe if the Legislature didn’t spend so much time this session going on a crusade against the University of Texas Board of Regents, they could have spent some time looking for savings in higher education to spend on campus construction. Maybe, just maybe, they could have passed a budget that didn’t spend everything they could, and used some of the $8 billion of surplus general revenue if new buildings were such a necessity for our public universities.

More debt is certainly worth avoiding if possible, but seeking to drain the ESF for a recurring expenditure (universities will always want new buildings) just goes from bad idea to worse. It’s not for the pet projects of ivory tower elitists, and it’s definitely not for ongoing expenses (as constructing new university campuses has proven to be) when the state realized a surplus of revenue.

It doesn’t take a doctoral degree to understand that.

Dustin Matocha

Dustin Matocha is the CFO and COO of Texas Scorecard. Dustin graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BBA in Management, a BA in Government, and a minor in Marketing. He’s a self-described Corvette enthusiast, baseball purist, tech geek and growing connoisseur of local craft beer.


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