Wednesday, November 12, 2008
City To Give $1 Million To TAMUCC
Today's local newspaper featured an article which reports that the Corpus Christi City Council has agreed to give $1 million to Texas A&M University Corpus Christi to help develop a new mechanical engineering program.
By Sara Foley
November 12, 2008
CORPUS CHRISTI — The City Council will give $1 million in sales tax revenue
toward Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi's proposed mechanical engineering
The funding, which the council approved 7-2 Tuesday, only can be used to reimburse
the university for money it spends on retrofitting laboratories and buying equipment
while establishing a mechanical engineering major. It won't pay for marketing,
scholarships or professors' salaries.
Councilmen Michael McCutchon and Mike Hummell voted against the funding, in part
because they questioned if helping the program was an appropriate use of sales tax
money earmarked for economic development.
"I have strong reservations using local taxpayer money to underwrite a program at a
university," Hummell said. "There are engineering programs all over the state that aren't
getting this kind of money. They just step up and get it done."
The new engineering major has yet to get final approval from the Texas Higher
Education Coordinating Board and the Texas A&M University System Board of
Trent Hill, A&M-Corpus Christi's vice president, said the university wouldn't take the
city's money unless the program is approved. The coordinating board and the regents
gave the program preliminary approval, but the university has to finalize its degree plan
to get final approval, Hill said.
The money comes from a one-eighth-cent sales tax that goes toward economic
development in the city. The city's business and job development corporation
recommends to the council how to spend that money.
Councilman Larry Elizondo said he initially had trouble seeing the program as
economic development, but now sees it as an investment in the economy.
"If we want long-term results, we're going to have to see these types of long-term
efforts," he said.
Corporation board chairman Eloy Salazar pointed to Amarillo as an example of another
city that used sales tax revenues to help higher education.
Amarillo's economic development corporation gave $6 million toward Texas Tech
University's pharmacy school and more than $1 million for an engineering program at
West Texas A&M University.
Hummell also questioned if there was sufficient demand for an engineering program.
Whether South Texas could support engineering programs at the Corpus Christi campus
and nearby Texas A&M University-Kingsville has been debated in the past year.
Hummell brought up a letter from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that
said the university shouldn't set up an engineering school because engineering programs
at other Texas universities didn't have enough students to fill their seats. That letter was
written about the university getting an engineering school, which is different than the
scaled-down plans to set up a major.
"Having an engineering school that is empty in Corpus Christi isn't going to help us any
more than having any of the other empty engineering schools in the state," Hummell
Councilman Bill Kelly disagreed.
"I realize the goal of economic development is to increase the size of the pie," he said.
"It's just as legitimate to help Corpus Christi get a bigger slice of the existing pie."
The $1 million pledge from the city is a third of what the university told the state it
would raise to cover the program's startup costs.
If the university raises the $3 million, then state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus
Christi, said he will ask the state to pay for the remaining startup costs.
He said his negotiations with state officials led him to believe the state will pay the
Hill said the total cost to set up the program isn't clear.
Kudos to Councilmen Michael McCutchon and Mike Hummell who had the good sense and courage to vote against this proposal.
Certainly higher education is important and the city should do what it can to help promote local colleges and universities but is the City of Corpus Christi able to give up public lands and tax revenues for TAMUCC? What about Del Mar? Should we not help them with some city tax revenue? Does the city have this kind of money laying around that we can afford to donate all this?