Unclear House budget may cost USF

On March 6, 2012

The Florida House passed the USF Polytechnic and budget bill Monday and claimed compromise in favor of USF, but many costs associated with creating Florida Polytechnic University remain unaddressed.

While USF will no longer bear the brunt of the $300 million budget cut to the State University System (SUS), it is unclear if USF will be expected to pay hidden costs, resulting in another unfair budget proposal.

Though USF was calculated as one entity in years prior, the House's budget now reflects USF-Tampa, USF-St. Petersburg, USF-Sarasota, Manatee and Polytechnic as being four separate universities receiving four separate cuts. Florida State University and the Sarasota- Manatee campus are now tied as receiving the biggest percentage cuts in the SUS. However, FSU and the University of Florida can possibly raise tuition over the state restriction of 15 percent a year. How much of a tuition raise was calculated into the budget is unclear, and the two universities would see much higher income with higher tuition. This means that of all the state universities, the Sarasota-Manatee campus could face the biggest blow.

USF and legislators also do not see eye to eye when it comes to how carry-forward balances are calculated.

The 2012-13 budget for the SUS was calculated based on the normal recurring state fund formula, the universities' reserves and carry-forward balances for this fiscal year and "various current tuition policy aspects," Board of Governors spokeswoman Kelly Layman wrote in an email to The Oracle.

According to the legislation, USF has a calculated reserve of $163.5 million in carry-over, but USF reasons that much of this money is to be used for summer school and will therefore not be present by June 30, 2012, when the budget cuts are in effect.

In addition, "Polytechnic" is currently listed as receiving a 16 percent loss after tuition, apparently based on last year's budget for the USF branch campus. However, if the campus is now Florida Polytechnic University, facing it's first year of operation, it doesn't make sense to record a budgetary loss as it would have no former budget.

USF will receive $10 million a year for five years to cover the "teach out" plan, where current USF Poly students can finish their degrees at the Lakeland campus, which is shared with Polk State College. After those five years, it can be presumed that the college will pick up the tab to operate the current buildings, and the proposed budget has not addressed money that will need to be shifted from the SUS to the state college system for Polk State College to make up for any USF revenue.

If legislators are trying to benefit USF, they have a long way to go.

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