The Hiring Freeze and Community Colleges

Gov. Greg Abbott’s freeze on state hiring (with explicit exceptions for some programs) has the state’s universities in a bind. Now is the period when faculty and administrative vacancies are listed for the next academic year, and many schools are wondering whether to proceed. It’s complicated because state appropriations are only one source of revenue for universities (along with tuition, assorted grants, and endowments). The institutions can argue that “other” funds besides state revenue will be utilized for new hires.

Universities are also presently working feverishly with local representatives to get “special items” into the budget—the classic legislative workaround. Some senators and representatives frown on special items, while others are more receptive, so which schools hit pay dirt may be arbitrary. It’s not the best way to make policy, but it happens all the time.

You would think that community colleges would be unaffected by all this, since local property tax revenue is added into the mix for two-year schools.  However, according to Ralph K.M. Haurwitz, in the Austin American-Statesman, community colleges are trying to determine whether Gov. Abbott’s directive to freeze hiring applies to them, too. That would be downright weird, but weird is quickly becoming the new normal.

From the Statesman piece:

Officials of the state’s 50 community college districts are trying to figure out whether and how they might be affected by Abbott’s hiring freeze. Their staff and faculty members aren’t considered state employees, but some receive group health insurance benefits from the state.

All full-time employees at Austin Community College get health care coverage through the Employees Retirement System of Texas, ACC spokeswoman Jessica Vess said.

“ACC is not deemed a state agency,” said Neil Vickers, ACC’s executive vice president for finance and administration. “If the order is found to apply to the college, it would only impact ACC’s state appropriations, which accounts for less than 15 percent of the college’s funding.”

The article quotes a noted and experienced legal expert who maintains that the governor doesn’t possess the constitutional authority to impose a hiring freeze in the first place. Please have a look. Naturally there is disagreement about this.

Gov. Abbott imposed the restrictions due to grim budgetary projections from the Comptroller of Public Accounts for the next biennium. Because of the recent resurgence in oil and gas activity, the outlook could improve, but it may take a while to spike the numbers. In the meantime, some lawmakers are wanting to tap into the so-called Rainy Day Fund, which is quite healthy right now.

More on the budget will be reported in subsequent posts.