Texas leaders reached an agreement Tuesday that means the restoration of $154 million to community colleges across the state, including Blinn College in Brenham and Bryan.
Perry vetoed the $154 million health benefit funding measure this summer, leaving officials at institutions throughout the state trying to figure out how to make up multi-million dollar shortfalls without increasing tuition or taxes.
In his veto message, Perry said community colleges were using state tax dollars to pay for health benefits for employees who weren’t paid by the state, and said, “To get money for these employees, community colleges falsified their appropriations requests.”
The claim generated protests from both sides of the aisle, and calls from both Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) and Republican Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst to figure out a way to restore the funding.
The deal hammered out by the three leaders calls for allocating $99 million to community colleges for the state’s share of health benefits and a one-time $55 million transitional payment to move employees not paid with state dollars to benefit plans that are funded locally.
The agreement specifies that only college employees paid with state funds are eligible for state-funded health benefits.
It also specifies that the leaders will ask community colleges to rescind any tuition, fee or tax increases that resulted from the veto.
“I am pleased a consensus was reached on appropriate health benefit funding. And, I am encouraged that we not only clarified the truth-in-budgeting standard for community colleges, but we were also able to place a greater emphasis on achievement through incentive funding,” Perry said.
The Texas Association of Community Colleges responded in a written release.
“We are pleased that the Legislature and Governor’s office were able to craft an agreement that restores funding for our institutions’ employees,” TACC Board Chair Dr. Millicent Valek said. “The return of these dollars means community colleges in Texas can continue to offer opportunities and access to thousands of Texans each day.”
Brenham-based Blinn College offered no official response, except to say the school would wait on "information specific to its funding in order to reevaluate its budget."
Also responding to Perry's reversal was State Representative Jim Dunnam (D-Waco).
"Rick Perry's veto was a terrible mistake," Dunnam said in a written release. "Thankfully, college officials, House and Senate Democrats, and many other community leaders turned up the heat and forced the Governor to back down and Tom Craddick to get off the fence."
"I'm glad a fix has finally been implemented, but I remain disappointed that this easily avoidable problem was created in the first place," Dunnam said.
Dunnam represents House District 57, which includes all of Leon, Madison, and Robertson counties.