Sylvester Turner

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

UT’s portion of the Permanent University Fund (PUF) might be cut in half to help fund The University of Houston. 

Last week, Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) laid out a bill and constitutional amendment before the House Higher Education Committee that, if passed, would be a step toward adding UH to the PUF, an endowment that is currently designated to fund university operations at the UT and Texas A&M systems through the Available University Fund (AUF).

Chief financial officer Mary Knight said this could have a significant financial impact on the university.

“As far as the overall budget, a hundred million dollar reduction to any of our sources would be a very major reduction to the budget,” Knight said. “A lot of research and scholarships are funded from the AUF, so we would have to make reductions somewhere to be able to account for this.” 

Since the state constitution dictates that only UT and A&M receive the funds, the constitution must be amended to add UH to the short list of the fund’s recipients. Additionally, Turner’s complimentary bill must pass.   

Currently, $263 million of UT’s $2.658 billion budget comes from the PUF, according to Knight. UT receives two-thirds of the $17 billion fund, while A&M receives one-third of the money. Turner’s proposals would cut UT’s portion and transfer part of it to UH, granting each institution one-third of the fund. 

At Wednesday’s hearing, Turner said he thinks The University of Houston is underfunded compared to A&M and UT. This year The University of Houston received $143 million in general revenue state appropriations compared to about $262 million and $252 million at UT and A&M, respectively. 

The University of Houston, which is Texas’s third tier-one research institution alongside UT and A&M, should become Texas’s third flagship university, according to Turner. 

“We do need to have a major conversation, and we do need to find ways of making sure we have additional flagship universities that are funded at the same or similar levels to benefit other students as we move forward,” Turner said at the hearing Wednesday.

Shaun Theriot-Smith, civil engineering junior and University of Houston student government president, said he believes UH is deserving of the PUF funding but said it should not come at the financial expense of UT and A&M. 

“As far as the student perspective goes, any chance to increase funding for the University is always a good thing, but I don’t think any [UH] student is really interested in a situation which might compromise another University, such as UT or A&M,” Theriot-Smith said. “It would result in A&M or [UT] receiving a smaller slice of the pie, but there’s a way to apportion for [UH] in a way that would not compromise the financial stability of [UT] or A&M.” 

University spokesperson Gary Susswein declined comment on the legislation, which is pending in committee. 

Student government president Xavier Rotnofsky said he thinks legislators should consider the impact that cutting PUF funds will have on UT when engaging in a conversation around adding The University of Houston to the PUF. 

“Public institutions in Texas should be involved in the dialogue of appropriations, but we have to keep in mind the impact that cutting from PUF to UT would have considering the population size of not only UT-Austin but also the UT system as a whole,” Rotnofsky said. “We get a lot of our funding from PUF, so it’s a huge asset of ours. We have to keep in mind the impact of adding another entity.”

Sabine Hodge of Pearland, Texas holds a sign and shouts at pro-life demonstrators at the Texas State Capitol on Tuesday afternoon during the first day of testimony on abortion restricting measures House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 1. Separate crowds of pro-life and pro-choice demonstrators rallied at the state building as the hearings were taking place.

Photo Credit: Guillermo Hernandez | Daily Texan Staff

More than 1,000 people signed up to testify on abortion legislation at a House State Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, but less than 100 had the opportunity to.

The House State Affairs Committee heard public and personal testimony on HB2 before passing the abortion-related bill. The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks, place more regulation on abortion clinics in Texas and require further restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs. At 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning, the committee stopped taking public testimony and voted on the bill. It was approved in an 8-3 vote. The bill will now go to the full House.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, voiced frustrations with Rep. Byron Cook, Chair of the House State Affairs Committee, for starting a vote on the bill before Turner had the opportunity to lay out amendments for the bill.

“I think it is wrong what we're doing,” Turner said. “I think we're pushing things through.”

Cook said Turner would have the opportunity to add the amendments when the bill is taken up by the full House next week. Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, said she would prefer it if her bill remained unchanged.

Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, also voiced concerns that more people in support of the bill were testifying, despite the fact that there seemed to be more people against the bill at the hearing.

"The record is not going to reflect the people who are here,” Farrar said. “It's not fair and I think this speaks ill of the process.”

Cook said the committee was doing the best it could to hear as many people as possible.

Now that the bill has passed through committee, it will go to the House. The full House meets next Tuesday, and will likely vote on the bill then.

For a glossary of terms you need to know to survive the second special session, click here.

For a list of lawmakers and activists you need to be aware of to follow the second special session, click here.

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To encourage black community members across Texas to become more politically and economically involved, black educators, activists, business leaders and elected officials shared their personal stories at the African American Legislative Summit in Austin.

The summit ends today and features panels on business development, education, representation in media and politics and legislative issues concerning African-American communities in Texas. About 3,000 attendees are expected for both days, according to Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, the chairman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on African-American issues in Texas and organized the 11th annual summit.

Daniel Clayton, legislative aide to caucus member Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said the purpose of these panels is to provide people with the opportunity to educate themselves and to become familiar with the legislative process.
Clayton said the summit ensures that lawmakers are available to hear their constituents.

“I think people recognize the magnitude of issues we are facing, [including] the budget shortfalls,” Turner said.
Turner said people are concerned future generations will have to bear the burden of budget shortfalls. He said these shortfalls would affect children, senior citizens, low-income people and especially students.

“It’s time to mobilize at all levels,” Turner said. “We need to see more activism come out of the students.”

A roundtable panel on Monday gave people the opportunity to hear personal stories from public officials, business titans, as well as policy professionals. Black elected officials encouraged their constituents to run for office and become more politically involved to get their voices heard.

“If you look at the world right now, the change is coming from the youth,” said Rep. James White, R-Hillster.
Old policies and laws need to be replaced by fresh ideas, White said. Many jobs that are going to be lost because of budget shortfalls are jobs that needed to be replaced with new opportunities, he said.

Lancaster City Council member Nina Morris said she wants to encourage young people to run for public office. She said she ran at a very young age and became one of the first black females to be elected to public office in her city.
“I just want you all to know that [this] is your time,” Morris said. “There is no better time.”

“I am here to learn and see what the direction of the state of Texas is particularly for the African-American communities,” said Shirley James, who attended the summit.

She said although black communities are growing in economic sector, the business developments are still lagging behind.

“There is this disparity, and we need to close that gap,” James said.