The School Land Board is a three-commissioner board in the Texas General Land Office. The board is responsible for generating revenue for the state's Permanent School Fund. The board always meets in Austin, but for the first time in its 23-year history, the meetings will take place around the state, starting in Houston. The board approved two significant decisions in Houston. General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson says the first was to confirm payments of at least $100 million per year to the state's school fund.
"The $100 million is what we've guaranteed as a floor to the State Board of Education, then they take that money and they invest it in equities, you know stocks and bonds. In the past, our income stream has been up and down and so it kind of interferes with the State Board of Education's ability to plan, you know, what they do. So we've guaranteed them a floor of $100 million and we will continue to increase that as our diversified other income streams come on line."
The state owns about 20 million acres of land, with mineral rights, lease contracts and taxes expected to generate about $1 billion this year for the fund. For years, most of the revenue came from oil and gas rights, but Patterson says those resources are drying up and the board is diversifying it's investments.
"We're investing in real estate funds, they're exceeding our expectations. So real estate will be replacing, over the next 20 years, oil and gas royalties and we have to do this. Because if we fail to do that, if we just sat on our haunches and said we've got all this oil and gas money coming in, that goes away some day. And if we don't do something now, we'll be stuck without income for the permanent school fund."
In addition to real estate, the board is starting to invest in renewable energy sources, like wind. Texas is now the national leader in the manufacture of wind energy. The board is seeking a Department of Energy contract for a wind turbine testing facility that could end up in the Houston area. UH Professor Ray Flumerfelt is heading up a consortium to lobby for the facility.
"Houston is the leader in the offshore industry, we have the technology here to do offshore operations. We're the world leader, it's a natural thing to do it in Texas and along the Texas coast."
The consortium will submit its proposal to the DOE on October 2. The board will then consider purchasing land for the potential testing facility. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.