By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
Gov. Rick Perry late Friday vetoed House Bill 589 and House Bill 317 – two pieces of legislation that would have brought Tarleton State University-Central Texas in Killeen closer to stand-alone status.
Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, received word Friday afternoon that Perry was considering vetoing the two. A little after 7 p.m. Friday, the governor's office sent a press release with a list of vetoed bills including HB 589 and 317.
"I think it's a really sad situation. It's hard to know what his thinking is on it," Aycock said after learning the news. "It's discouraging when we have soldiers laying their lives on the line and they have to drive 120 miles for higher education."
Aycock said he received a call from Perry about 4:30 p.m. Friday telling him the bills would likely get vetoed. It was less than three hours later when the announcement came out.
"You just never know," Aycock said. "There's very little he (Perry) does that surprises me anymore."
Before the veto was official, Aycock speculated on the motive.
"The reason that was given was they were very cautious about opening new universities," Aycock said.
House Bill 589 would have changed the method of counting the full-time enrollment from a semester count to an annual count, which would make it easier for Tarleton State University-Central Texas in Killeen to be eligible to become a stand-alone university in the Texas A&M system.
House Bill 317 would have reduced the number of students the school needs to issue tuition revenue bonds.
"A veto on both those bills is very disappointing to us," said retired Gen. Pete Taylor, chairman of the Central Texas University Task Force – a citizen group working on the project.
Aycock authored HB 589 and Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, authored HB 317. Both of the bills would have affected the threshold at Pathway Centers in San Antonio and Dallas, as well as the Pathway Center in Killeen.
"People needed it ... apparently that wasn't good enough," Aycock said.
Retired Col. William H. Parry III, executive director of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, said the timing of the governor's veto added to the disappointment.
"If the governor had issues with this legislation, he will normally call the legislator," Parry said. "There was no indication that the governor had any problems."
Parry said it is his understanding that the governor reacted to a recommendation from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to veto the bill.
Dr. Raymund A. Paredes, Commissioner of Higher Education, testified before a Texas House Select Committee on April 26 that establishing Texas A&M-Central Texas and other new universities would spread state resources for higher education more thinly.
Parry said legislation last year cut the required full-time enrollment standards to create a stand-alone university in half to 1,500.
"He (Gov. Perry) made a concession last year to reduce," Parry said.
Parry speculated the governor did not want to make another concession of that nature this year.
In a message filed by Gov. Perry with the veto of House Bill 589, he confirmed that stance.
An excerpt reads: "These enrollment changes expedite eligibility for independent status and greater state appropriations. The bill thwarts the Higher Education Coordinating Board's longstanding policy of requiring 3,500 full-time student equivalents necessary to determine when and where to establish new universities. The bill leads to seriously inefficient levels of appropriations to the centers."
The governor continued: "My position concerning further reductions to enrollment requirements for independent status was made clear in 2005 with the signing statements to Senate Bill No. 296 and House Bill No. 495, in which I said it was my intention that no future deviation from the Coordinating Board standards occur.'"
While the governor stopped those bills, he did not hold up all progress on the Central Texas program. Among the many line-item vetoes relating to universities, Perry did not strike a $10 million special item support for Tarleton State University-Central Texas.
House Bill 1, the state's general budget, includes $5 million in 2008 and $5 million in 2009 to fund programs at the campus branch in Killeen.
Proponents of creating a stand-alone university remained optimistic.
"While this is disappointing ... I think we need to be positive about it and remain optimistic because we deserve a stand-alone university here and I know that's going to happen," Taylor said.
Tarleton State University-Central Texas is a branch of the Tarleton State University main campus in Stephenville, which is part of the Texas A&M University system.
If the Central Texas branch meets full-time enrollment requirements, it would remain a member of the Texas A&M system, but no longer be part of Tarleton. If approved by the Texas A&M Board of Regents, the local college would become Texas A&M-Central Texas.
"The opportunity is still there; we've just got to put our shoulder to the wheel and drive for more students," Taylor said.
Contact Kevin M. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7550