Some University administrators and local politicians are upset with Gov. Charlie Crist’s decision to grant $140 million to one private university and another out-of-state university.
Crist, along with House Speaker Mark Rubio, announced Friday that the state was awarding an $80 million grant to build a genomics research institute at the University of Miami (UM).
The announcement came shortly after the decision to grant $60 million to the University of Oregon (UO) for vaccine and gene therapy. The grants – part of the Innovation Incentive Fund created by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006 – come about at a fiscally difficult time for the state. The Florida Legislature told the State University System to cut $150 million from its budget, as the state is expected to take in about $2 billion less in property taxes this year.
At the same time, President Judy Genshaft has responded to budget problems by asking University departments to cut 15 percent from their budgets as a preventative measure. In addition, budget cuts at the University have led to hiring and enrollment freezes, as well as possible job cuts, causing some to worry that state universities will lose faculty and staff to these private facilities.
In light of these budget cuts, many who work closely with USF are skeptical of the grants.
Rep. Ed Homan, a Republican who represents USF’s district in the House, described the program as a way for the governor to provide small amounts of funding to encourage technological growth without having to seek legislative approval, especially in times when the Legislature is not in session, but was not sure of the grants’ appropriateness.
He said the Fund was created when the state was flush with cash, and didn’t think the Legislature would approve of such a large contribution of funds to out-of-state and private universities during a time when the state system is hemorrhaging money.
“Just keep it in the state,” he said. “(UO is) just getting the money for some leadership roles. If our universities have the money, then we can hire the people away from them. What are we doing spending money on a university in Oregon?”
Both the University of Florida and USF have vaccine research facilities. UF also has an established genomics institute. Homan and Karen Holbrook, VP of Research and Innovation at USF, said they believe the money should be spent developing the research programs that the state already has.
“Investment in programs at both of these institutions would pay off,” Holbrook said.
Jill Chamberlain, Rubio’s press secretary, had a different opinion of the grant, however.
“There is not a quid pro quo here,” she said. “This is special funding set aside by the legislature to encourage research and academic development in Florida.”
Chamberlain said these are not funds that would otherwise go to a state university. She said this is a one-time grant and not annually recurring funds, the type of funds the state university system needs. She added that Florida is predominately a service economy and that the state needs to develop more academic research and local tech jobs. Chamberlain said this is exactly what these grants will bring to Florida.
Crist’s office said in a press release that it anticipates these grants to provide additional revenues from the creation of new jobs and taxes. The Governor’s office said it expects the Genomics center at UM to generate $3.2 billion in gross state product over the first 20 years, as well as an additional $196 million in gross state government revenues.
But administrators and local politicians don’t to buy their argument.
“We’re engines of economic development in our own communities and in the state,” Holbrook said. “At a time when we’re seeing very severe budget cuts to the funding of our universities, this is a little hard to understand.”