THEC Wants $1.8 Billion (and has a matching money plan)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Higher Education Commission agreed Tuesday to support a plan that would have colleges and universities pay part of the cost for campus construction projects and also requested approval of a five-year capital program that totals $1.8 billion.
Commissioners in a telephone conference call Tuesday agreed to send the plan to Gov. Bill Haslam and state finance officials but did not have a quorum to formally act on the proposed capital outlay for the fiscal year that starts in July 2012 and the five-year plan.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that THEC supports the five-year plan that both the University of Tennessee and Board of Regent systems hope will be financed with a bond issue ( ).
Haslam said Tuesday that his Republican administration does “want to increase the amount of funding going to higher ed capital in Tennessee.”
“And I think it’s fair to say one of our clear intentions in this year’s budget is to spend more on capital both for higher ed and for the state’s own needs.”
The commission is requesting $245 million in new projects for 2012-13, $40 million of which would come from institutions’ match, and $84 million in maintenance for the next fiscal year.

UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said the match could come from private donations and grants and from a pool of $4.8 million generated by increased fees that students agreed to pay last year for facility upgrades.
Putting all that money toward annual debt from the bonds would be enough to cover UT’s portion of several projects on the list, Cheek said.
“I don’t think (higher education) has ever said we will contribute ‘X’ percent for a project through a match for all capital outlay requests. There have been targeted programs with match components here and there, but nothing this pervasive,” said Russ Deaton, associate executive director of fiscal policy and administration at the commission. “I don’t know if this is a permanent policy change or not, but from our perspective, we think it is appropriate over the next five years or so.”
The proposal for fiscal 2012-2013 includes a $126 million science building at Middle Tennessee State University and for the University of Tennessee a $94 million science laboratory building and a $24 million multidisciplinary simulation center at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis.
If the state approves the bond issue, schools could move ahead with plans to build. For UT, planning would start for six buildings this year, including two academic buildings at the Knoxville campus.
“Right now what we do is we wait until we get the thing fully funded and we take 10 months to a year to do the full plan, and the architecture renditions and the engineering stuff. This will make it faster to build a building,” UT System President Joe DiPietro said.
Over five years, UT has requested $819 million for 19 projects across all its campuses, including six in Knoxville.
DiPietro has said he hopes state lawmakers will approve a measure so bonds can be issued by next summer to take advantage of low interest rates.
Officials with both systems hope to convince the governor to include the bond measure in his recommended budget.

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