Gov. Jeb Bush’s is uring lawmakers to distribute a $30-million unclaimed lottery jackpot among the state’s colleges and universities and notthe state’s 67 school districts as originally intended. The decision couldn’t come at a better time, as many universities are suffering budget crises. This can, however, only be a temporary fix, as the government is still doing little to correct what triggered these crises.
Florida’s government has owed its 11 state universities more than $125 million in the past several years, according to Michael Rierson, vice president of advancement at USF. The reason for this debt is the government’s failure to match major donations made to Florida universities as promised. At USF, such money adds up to $15 million.
Nevertheless, universities statewide greeted the proposal jubilantly. Rierson said to the St. Petersburg Times, “Frankly, I thought it was Christmas in October.”
And even the public schools do not seem to be upset that the overturned money is not in their favor. As Jim Hamilton, chief of staff for Hillsborough County schools, said, “That’s disappointing for us, but I don’t think it’s a bad investment.”
Florida universities have been itching for this money for some time now.
The government had previously promised to match donations to universities and is now using this unclaimed lottery jackpot to substitute as a quick fix.
As donors learned their donations went unmatched, they stopped donating large sums, in some cases even cutting off these sources of income to universities completely, as some donors are only willing to donate if the money is matched as promised.
The state Legislature appears to support Bush’s proposal. House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, warns the schools to spend this money wisely,saying that is will be a one-time deal, and that schools cannot rely on funding anomalies like this. Then again, state colleges seemingly cannot rely on money promised to them by the state government, either.
The state government allocation of the unclaimed lottery jackpot would be a boost for universities like USF, but the government also needs to be able to back up its promises and not use sporadic and temporary relief measures to save face. Maybe they should try to fix the cause of the budget shortcomings rather than the symptoms.