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Budget proposals look grim for USF

If the state House of Representative’s budget proposal is approved in May, Florida universities could face more than $115 million in budget cuts. The House and Senate submitted proposals last week with budget cuts for state universities starting at $36 million. The Senate proposed a $36.6-million cut, while the House sees a $118.6-million cut for universities. USF estimated in early March that it could face a $31-million cut according to the Governor’s current budget. In Gov. Jeb Bush’s proposed budget for higher education, Florida universities share a $148.8-million budget reduction.

But, whether the cuts will affect universities individually or as a whole depends on several factors, said Kathy Betancourt, associate vice president of government relations for USF.

“It depends on how they do it with the category of funding,” Betancourt said. “The budget cut areas might depend on the amount of square footage a university has. More money goes for more space.”

Although Betancourt is not sure how the money will be cut, Susan MacManus, professor of political science at USF, said she doesn’t think the universities will be cut individually. Instead, the amount will be a combination of all the cuts from universities, she said.

MacManus added that the cuts will probably not be equal for each university.

“Universities are competing against each other with the budget cuts,” MacManus said. “The more people lobbying will affect the amount cut from the school, which is why people are lobbying for USF. And sometimes it depends on where the legislators went. For example, if they went to FSU, they might have more sympathy towards FSU. It’s all politics.”

Betancourt said the reason for the budget cuts is a majority of funds for state education were allocated to K – 12 schools first.

“The priority of funds goes first to public schools, then to community colleges and finally to universities,” Betancourt said. “This year, half of the money (allocated) for universities went to public schools because of the public school growth. Bottom line — they ran out of money.”

In addition to budget cuts, tuition increases for USF are still unknown. Gov. Bush’s budget recommends a 7.5 percent increase, and the USF Board of Trustees recommends a 5 percent increase in tuition. Neither of these increases has been finalized. However, if both proposals are passed, students would pay a 12.5 percent increase in tuition.

MacManus said the decision might be influenced by the concerns expressed by students, faculty, university boards and lobbyists. MacManus said if more concerns are presented, it could reduce the amount of the tuition increase.

Furthermore, a House Bill submitted last week states that Bright Futures recipients may pay up to a 7.5 percent of any increase in tuition. However, Betancourt said nothing has been decided yet.

In other money matters, the Health Care and Education Center at USF may be receiving $10 million to fund building projects. Michael Hoad, associate vice president of Health Sciences, said the money is not yet guaranteed, but if it is received, it will be used to finish an ongoing project to bring the College of Medicine, the College of Nursing and the College of Public Health together.

Hoad said the project to build new resources for Health Sciences has been in progress for three years. “The first phase started last year to build a new College of Nursing building to share education of nursing and medicine,” Hoad said. “The next stage is to create an outpatient clinic for the students of the college to begin a program for patients.”

Betancourt said the $10 million came from the unspent money in the Public Education Capital Outlay Fund, which holds money set aside specifically for building projects.

“The $10 million came from unexpended dollars,” Betancourt said. “This money was available through the PECO fund specifically available only for all universities.”