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Early voting has begun for the Nov. 7 general election. In addition to local races and referendums across the Rio Grande Valley, voters are asked to decide the fate of 14 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. We trust that all voters will recognize the importance of rendering their opinions on matters that in many cases will affect all Texans’ tax burden, their freedoms and our economic future.
One of the proposed amendments would use oil and gas tax revenues to support more research at major universities in the state. Such research has proven to promote scientific progress, attract private investment and create new educational opportunities for many of our state’s top minds. We hope voters will see the value of the proposition and support the measure.
Proposition 5 on the ballot would authorize the state to convert the current National Research University Fund, which primarily benefits the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University in College Station, into a Texas University Fund that supports more universities in the state. Seed money would come from a $3.9 billion allocation from the state’s budget surplus plus the $900 million currently in the NRUF. The state would feed the TUF with annual allotments from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, more commonly known as the rainy day fund.
Money from the fund won’t be available to all universities; to qualify, universities must award at least 45 doctoral degrees and spend at least $20 million on federally or privately funded research for three consecutive years. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley doesn’t qualify, but as it continues to grow and expand its programs and work toward Tier 1 status, enabling its colleges to access TUF money is an attractive goal. UTRGV already has strong programs in its medical, engineering and astronomy schools that surely are conducting the kind of research that might attract funding from the state fund. The TUF also would increase the chances that research could draw federal grants, which sometimes require matching funds from other sources.
The nation’s top faculty and researchers often are attracted to universities that can provide funding, support and strong student assistants for their work. In addition, it’s no secret that strong research programs also draw top high-tech companies that can benefit from the research and knowledgeable graduates and students. Elon Musk, for example, already has forged cooperative agreements with Valley institutions that can benefit both the schools and Musk’s investments such as SpaceX.
With money coming from funds the state already has on hand and fed from oil and gas severance taxes, the TUF won’t affect Texans’ tax burden. It can, however, lead to more research that one day could improve their lives and also offer more educational and research opportunities for our children.
In a very real sense, support for expanded research at our state’s universities is an investment in progress and greater economic development. It’s an investment worth making.
We trust that Valley voters will agree, and show their support for Proposition 5 on the Nov. 7 ballot.