MSI 'raise' gets okay from Perry
It's confirmed now. The University of Texas Marine Science Institute (MSI) in Port Aransas is getting a big raise.
Gov. Rick Perry on June 15 signed a $151 billion state budget that included a $2 million boost for MSI.
The state previously provided about $1.2 million to MSI every two years. With the additional $2 million, the institute will be receiving $3.2 million for the biennium.
The extra money was introduced as a budget rider authored by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa. While Hinojosa introduced the rider, it wasn't a sure thing that MSI would get the money. UT officials held their collective breath, waiting to see if Perry would use a line-item veto to eliminate the extra funding.
Perry vetoed $570 million worth of expenditures in the budget but didn't touch the money designated for UTMSI.
MSI Director Dr. Lee Fuiman said he and everyone else at the institute were excited to see the funding hike become official.
"We're feeling wonderful," Fuiman said. "And if you review the governor's lack of vetoes, it seems he recognizes the importance of environmentally related items. … I'm just delighted the governor understands the value of the Marine Science Institute."
Before Perry signed the budget, Fuiman drafted a long letter to the governor's office, providing a case for why the institute merits the $2 million raise.
The letter, Fuiman said, addressed each of the criteria the governor's office routinely uses in deciding whether to eliminate items from the budget. Fuiman said the letter demonstrated such strong justifications on every point that it became hard to see how the governor could end up vetoing the money. The letter also contained contributions from toplevel UT officials in Austin and then was passed on to Perry's office.
Fuiman said he wants to use the added money to increase staff salaries that have suffered from a lack of funding over the years. The additional $2 million in the budget represents the first increase in money from the state in more than 20 years.
Fuiman said he also wants to use the new money to increase the number of personnel at the institute, though no decisions have been made about how many new positions would be created.
MSI currently has a total of 140 employees. That includes 15 faculty members.
Fuiman said he has sent e-mails to all employees, inviting them to make suggestions on specifics about how the institute's new money should be spent.
Fuiman said he does expect some of the new money to help provide matching funds for research within the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve System, dedicated just last May.
MSI 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 non-federal matching funds too. Fuiman said part of the $2 million that Hinojosa put in the rider is expected to help provide those matching funds.
"I very much appreciate the governor staying attuned to the vital interests the marine science institute plays in the state of Texas," said Georgia Neblett, executive director of the Mission-Aransas reserve and a former mayor of Port Aransas. "This new funding, like the NERR designation, is yet another indication of the reputation MSI holds, not only in the worldwide scientific community, but in the state. The return on any dollars invested will make everyone associated with the institute or Mission Aransas NERR proud to be a part of it all.
Neblett added, "We are infinitely grateful to Sen. Hinojosa for his perseverance in securing this funding."