Session begins … again

The Florida Legislature goes back to work today, convening for a special session to iron out key differences in the state budget. But in the process of defining where the budget cuts will be, the 11 state universities have been waiting to see where they will be hit the hardest.

For USF, as well as the state’s other universities, it is not a matter of if there will be budget cuts, but how much money each institution will lose.

Gov. Jeb Bush had called for another special session in late October to deal with declining revenue across the state. Bush said in a news release that the session had not accomplished everything he hoped it would in having to cut back in an ailing economy since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“We have an obligation to do better,” Bush said. “… The challenge for us in Tallahassee is to set aside our differences and join the people of our state in making the shared sacrifices necessary to get us through these difficult times.”

Kathy Betancourt, lobbyist for USF, said she hopes the cuts will be balanced between the universities.

“As long as they take the same amount out of our hide as they do everyone else – we just want it to be fair,” Betancourt said. “We are never going to like the (budget cuts) but it is a medicine we have to take.”

But any definite changes at the university will have to wait until the Legislature finishes the special session on Dec. 6.Bush called the special session that starts today after the House and Senate failed to resolve the issue of whether to defer the state’s intangibles tax for 18 months.

Betancourt said regardless of the session’s results, the university would have to make some cuts.

And it doesn’t matter what financial decisions the university makes, she said, it is still a difficult process.

“People say to ‘trim the fat.’ Well, we’ve been there, done that,” Betancourt said.

“We are now down to the bone.”While the Legislature debates how the state’s money will be spent, student body president Mike Griffin is focusing on the needs of USF students.

Griffin said the goal of the university is to look after students’ educational interests.

“We are a growing university, and we have to protect academia as much as possible,” Griffin said.

Griffin also said he wants the budget cuts to be evened out among the state’s 11 universities.

“We know there are going to be cuts, but we would like to try and keep them fair,” Griffin said.

“Don’t give Florida and Florida State special treatment.”

Griffin said he wants to protect student services such as academic advising and financial aid resources, but he said he knows that students may not recognize the impacts of the budget cuts until it affects them personally.

“Students are not going to realize the impact of the cuts until the lines are longer and the hours are shorter,” Griffin said.

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