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Texas A&M San Antonio needs new bonding authority to grow

By Sen. Carlos Uresti

In case you haven't noticed, Texas A&M University - San Antonio is bursting at the seams. For three consecutive years it has been the fastest growing campus in the A&M system, providing higher education opportunities to students in South San Antonio.

Most of its 4,000 students attend classes at the university's main campus on University Way, but others are spread over several satellite campuses because there just isn't enough room. And given enrollment projections for the future, Texas A&M - SA is in desperate need of new facilities.

That's why filed Senate Bill 11 for consideration in the current special session of the Legislature. The bill would provide up to $86.5 million in tuition revenue bonds for a new science and technology building and related infrastructure, which would allow more students to attend classes at the main campus and account for future growth.

Tuition Revenue Bonds, known as TRBs, represent an innovative approach to building construction. The bonds are guaranteed by future tuition revenues, an obligation historically covered by the state. There is widespread support, but in order for this bill to be considered, Gov. Rick Perry must add the issue to the special session's call. I respectfully urge him to do so.

The measure is necessary because a bill providing $2.7 billion in tuition revenue bonds for Texas A&M - SA and other universities across the state failed to win passage during the regular session. It wasn't the first time that an important bill got overshadowed in the final hectic days of the session, and it certainly won't be the last.

But the special session that is underway now provides an opportunity to revisit the issue. It is vitally important that we do so.

Four years ago I sponsored legislation granting Texas A&M - SA the bonding authority to begin constructing its new campus south of Loop 410 near Zarzamora. I helped turn the first shovel of dirt and watched as a dusty gravel road became a splendid boulevard leading to the first building. What had been a pasture became a portal to the future for young people in San Antonio and South Texas.

Since then, the university has acquired its mascot and colors, thousands of new students, and a reputation for excellence and opportunity. Students pay the lowest tuition in San Antonio for graduate and undergraduate degrees in information technology and cyber security, business, and teacher preparation.

The existing administration/classroom building was outgrown almost from the day its doors were opened. With almost 700 acres, there is plenty of room on the main campus to grow, and it's time to take the next step.

For many years, south San Antonio missed out on the economic development and higher education facilities that allow communities to thrive. Texas A&M - SA is helping to change all that. But it cannot continue to do so within the constraints of its current campus.

A new science and technology building is critical for the university to continue fulfilling its mission. There is still time in the special session to address this critical issue, and a lot of bipartisan support. All Gov. Perry has to do is give us the green light, and we'll do the rest.

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