State may boost MSI funding by $2 million
The University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas could soon receive a $2 million shot in the arm that would help fund salary increases, bring in additional staff and help out a highly touted research program in local waters.
The money recently was introduced as a budget rider authored by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, according to his office. The hike still could fall victim to a line-item veto by Gov. Rick Perry before the budget gets the governor's signature, but Hinojosa said he doesn't expect that to happen.
"While Gov. Perry has the authority to veto any rider added to the budget, it is highly unlikely he would veto the funding increase for UTMSI," Hinojosa said. "The research being done at UTMSI is extremely valuable to Texas and will greatly benefit our state."
Hinojosa said a visit to the institute not long ago inspired him to seek the additional funding.
"I was very impressed with their research," Hinojosa said in an interview with the South Jetty. "They also told me they had not been given any increase in their budget in 20 years, and I was very surprised. … So I worked to try to get them additional money."
The state currently provides about $1.2 million to UTMSI every two years. With the additional $2 million, the institute will be receiving $3.2 million for the biennium.
UTMSI Director Lee Fuiman said he and the rest of the institute will be ready to celebrate if the money still is in the budget after the governor signs it.
"We're ecstatic," Fuiman said. "We've been working hard toward getting an increase from the Legislature for a long time."
Fuiman said Hinojosa's work to increase the institute's funding has been important but that others deserve credit too, including Rep. Juan Garcia, former representative Gene Seaman and Wayne Gardner, former director at UTMSI. The University of Texas at Austin and the UT System also have provided "strong support," Fuiman said.
"It's heartening to know they're all behind us," Fuiman said. "They've worked a long time for this."
The new money will help provide matching funds for research within the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve System, dedicated just last May.
UTMSI is the lead state agency for the reserve, which includes 236,000 acres of estuaries and bays extending from near Port Lavaca to Port Aransas and encompassing Mission, Aransas and Redfish bays. The reserve is expected to attract researchers from across the nation who are interested in water quality monitoring and associated subjects.
The reserve is part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System - a network of coastal sites designated for long-term scientific research, education and stewardship in a partnership between federal government and coastal states.
The local reserve - the first in the western Gulf of Mexico - is funded in part by federal money, but it requires state matching funds too. The $2 million that Hinojosa put in the rider is expected to help a great deal with providing those matching funds.
"I'm elated," said Georgia Neblett, executive director of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve System, also known as NERRS. "We have tried to receive an increase in this line item for 20 years, and … while all of our legislators have supported it, Sen. Hinojosa was the one who was able to get it included in the budget and, for that, I'm very grateful."
A hike in the UTMSI budget will be especially helpful because institute personnel have been using personal time and their own salaries to work on the NERRS program, Fuiman said.