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Budget cuts may be less dramatic

The massive $100 million-plus budget cut expected to hit Florida universities may not be so large a number after all.

Four days into a special legislative session, the Senate and the House continued to try to avoid a drastic cut in education. And with the recent lobbying efforts of six state university presidents, the budget cuts could be reduced significantly.

When the regular session ended May 2, universities were looking at more than a $110 million in cuts. Now, presidents foresee about a $40-million cut from the House’s proposal and about a $60-million cut from the Senate’s proposal.

Carl Carlucci, chief financial officer and executive vice president of USF, said a more definite answer concerning USF’s budget will be available at the end of the special session, which concludes May 27. But the $26-million cut that USF was expecting will most likely be less.

“We are in better shape and may face less of a reduction,” Carlucci said.

In the past week, USF President Judy Genshaft, along with five other university presidents, traveled around the state to lobby for a reduction in cuts to higher education. Carlucci said those efforts are what allowed the legislature to find and shift some money around in the budget.

“The presidents were very successful and they focused on getting those cuts reduced,” he said. “They went out and got it done.”

Kathy Betancourt, associate vice president of government relations for USF, said two PECO projects the university requested prior to Wednesday were funded and passed by the House.

Betancourt said the Infrastructure Improvement, Utilities and Capital for USF Tampa was funded $8 million and USF St. Petersburg was funded just over $1 million.

“We are making baby steps forward,” she said.

Betancourt added that the Senate did not make any significant changes in its proposed budget for universities, but the House put about $67 million statewide into general revenue and additional $5 million from the lottery to the 11 state universities’ budgets. This comes to a total of about $67 million, Betancourt said. This is about $20 million more than what was reported at the beginning of the special session.

“I’m still anticipating cuts, but they are not as dreadful as the picture was originally,” she said. “The university presidents made a huge difference.”

Meanwhile, the legislature is still not allocating funding for new students and the Senate is projecting about a 7.5 percent increase in tuition. The House is projecting about a 12.5 percent hike in tuition.

However, because the legislature is still in the special session, the Board of Trustees, today in its meeting, will more than likely discuss the budget rather than vote, Carlucci said.

“There will probably be a rush to do the budget at the end of this fiscal year, and the Board will probably take some actions to empower the executive branch or the president as the legislature acts,” he said.

Betancourt said the bills that were passed today will head to the Senate and House floors by Friday and will then be printed and organized to be compared and contrasted by the conference committees in both chambers.

“We are still in the middle of the process and we get a little bit of information every day,” Carlucci said. “But hopefully it is brought down significantly.”