SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate passed the latest version of SB102 Wednesday, which would overhaul the process the Utah Legislature uses to appropriate funding for buildings on state college, university and technical college campuses.
Under SB102, colleges and universities would no longer compete with state agencies for one-time funding for construction projects.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, would create restricted accounts funded with ongoing monies to be allocated to colleges, universities and technical colleges based on a formula. The bill envisions $114 million in ongoing funding - $100 million dedicated to Utah System of Higher Education institutions and the rest to the Utah System of Technical Colleges.
Millner said she believes the new process would encourage colleges and universities to address smaller projects, such as adding a wing to a building, instead of constructing buildings that cost $50 million to $70 million. Or the institutions could allow the funds to accumulate when they are ready to present a fully developed project for funding.
"It does allow them to know they are building up monies in an account. But they cannot put shovel in ground, they cannot get monies released to them until after they have gone back through" the process, Millner said in Senate debate on Tuesday.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said the process "seems to be simply an earmark like we do for highways."
When colleges have a final project that is fully developed, "it goes back through the regents, back through the building board and back to this Legislature to actually appropriate the money that’s sitting in our finance accounts," Millner said.
Bramble replied: "So it's an earmark with an asterisk."
Others questioned fairness for other state agencies who go through the customary process of taking their proposed projects to the State Building Board, then to Legislature's Infrastructure and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, and ultimately to lawmakers, competing for limited one-time money.
Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy, said while state colleges buildings have received funding over the years, other state agencies have gone wanting for decades, including the Department of Agriculture's hope for a new building.
Millner said the approach of SB102 should help the agencies because their requests will no longer have to compete against higher education building requests.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said he has grown increasingly concerned about the cost and scale of college buildings supported by state dollars.
"I get worried we're building Taj Mahals at the universities that help recruit only a small proportion of degrees that have very little economic impact," Anderegg said.
Millner said that is more likely to occur under the current system, which was created by the Legislature. Colleges have to "wait in line" for funding so it encouraged the construction of large projects, she said.
Under SB102, funding considerations would include an institution's enrollment, performance, regional growth in student population, facility age, and condition and utilization of academic space, including off-campus facilities.Comment on this story
The bill also provides a mechanism for a school with high enrollment growth to seek funding for a building project and also to address a pressing safety issue.
The latter would not apply "if you have not been taking care of your buildings," she said.
Some senators also questioned if $14 million was sufficient for technical colleges. Millner said the commissioners of both systems support the legislation.
The Senate passed SB102 on a vote of 27-1, with Buxton casting the dissenting vote. The bill moves to the House for its consideration.