October 16, 2009
On Nov. 3, Texans will get a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put a charge into our economy, boost our universities and create a lasting inheritance to future generations.
And it won’t cost us a penny.
Proposition 4 on the Nov. 3 ballot would dedicate more than $400 million — money the state already has — to the creation of more Tier One universities in Texas.
As former mayor, chairman of the chamber of commerce and current state senator for an area that includes the University of Texas at Austin, I can tell you that Tier One institutions can transform a region.
Austin grew from a college and government town to become the center of a regional technology hub thanks largely to the discoveries and talent that came out of UT.
Proposition 4 would help other strong existing universities — schools like Texas Tech, the University of Houston, and the University of Texas campuses in San Antonio, El Paso and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex — evolve into academic and economic powerhouses.
The money freed up by Proposition 4 would pay for groundbreaking research, state-of-the-art facilities and internationally renowned faculty that distinguish certain campuses as “Tier One” universities. These are campuses that do at least $100 million in research every year and stand out nationally for top-flight professors, the best and brightest students, and rigorous academic programs.
Such institutions will drive the economy in the 21st Century, and the state doesn’t have nearly as many as it needs.
Only three Texas universities — the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M and Rice — currently qualify as Tier One campuses. That puts us far behind California, which has nine Tier One universities, and New York, which has seven.
We’re losing 10,000 of Texas’ brightest high school graduates each year to other states, and we’re leaving as much as $3.7 billion a year in federal money on the table because those three institutions don’t have the capacity to do research that would attract those funds.
Proposition 4 would start bringing the money and talent back to Texas. It would create the National Research University Fund and fill it with about $425 million that the state has set aside for higher education but not spent. Campuses would qualify for the money by meeting tough benchmarks — such boosting their endowments and Ph.D. graduates.
This effort would have a profound effect on students and on future generations. It would also super-charge the economy.
Economists estimate that for every $10 million in annual research spending, 334 jobs are created, $8.6 million in wages are paid, $500,000 in tax revenue is generated, and $13.5 million changes hands through economic activity. That’s a total return on investment of 226 percent.
Institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology help put that economic power into perspective. MIT alumni have founded more than 4,000 companies. Collectively, those businesses employ 1.1 million people and generate $232 billion in sales, an amount about equal to the economic output of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Other parts of Texas can experience the prosperity that Central Texas has known. The Tier One universities we already have simply aren’t big enough to train our best kids and meet our economic needs.
Proposition 4 is our chance to create new ones that will meet our economic needs today and train our children for tomorrow — all without raising taxes. This is a rare opportunity. Vote yes on Proposition 4.