Legislative budget could bring big bucks to USF

The 2010-11 Florida Legislative budget, which Gov. Charlie Crist must approve by Saturday, shows that USF is slated to receive nearly $498 million in operational and construction funds – a number that may decrease.

USF Associate Vice President of Government Relations Mark Walsh said the operational budget is comprised of funds necessary to run the University and is generally a consistent number from year to year.

However, he said the construction budget, which currently amounts to nearly $60 million, may see some cuts before it is finalized.

Of the total operational funds allocated to USF campuses, about $338 million would go to Tampa, $38 million would go to St. Petersburg, $20 million would go to Sarasota/Manatee and $42 million would go to USF Polytechnic in Lakeland, Walsh said.

Last year, the University received more than $410 million in operational funds. Walsh said that the $28 million increase seen this year is partly because of federal stimulus money the University received as a result of the Financial Recovery Act signed into law by President Barack Obama last year.

The operational budget is recurring and usually consistent, he said. However, last year’s construction budget was more than $22.1 million – about $38 million less than this year’s proposed budget.

Walsh said it is the “largest out of all the universities in the state of Florida.”

According to the Conference Report on House Bill 5001, the University of Florida received about $32.1 million, Florida State University got about $29.4 million and the University of Central Florida received about $48.6 million in construction fees.

Walsh said the revenue to build these facilities comes from the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) fund, which is a source of money supplied by a portion of the taxes paid on gas, utility and cell phone bills that are used to construct buildings for public universities, community colleges and public schools.

PECO funds are rarely doled out in the amounts necessary to produce a building in one year, he said. Instead, the money is given over the course of a few years.

Walsh said that the money allocated in the budget for USF construction would not be enough to complete any of the ongoing construction projects on campus. However, it would be enough to get construction under way.

According to the Conference Report, USF Polytechnic would receive the bulk of the construction funds – $35 million. Of that amount, $10 million would go toward a new pharmacy school building and an Interdisciplinary Science Teaching and Research Facility could receive nearly $8 million.

Walsh said the University claims that the construction funds are needed to facilitate better education and would also create an economic stimulus through job creation.

“All these buildings are needed,” Walsh said. “Buildings like Cooper Hall are not fit for 21st century education. We have the need, and we want to build these things … we can build them quickly and create lots of construction jobs immediately.”

Although Crist has a few more days to reach a decision on the budget, Walsh said he believes the governor will probably make one before then.

“I think the governor has already committed he’s going to sign the budget,” Walsh said. “But, I also think that he’s intending to use his line-item veto power.”

Walsh said that if the governor does veto some of the funds allocated to USF in the budget the only option for the University would be to get a two-thirds vote from both houses of the legislature to override his veto.

“I don’t think that this is likely to happen, but this year may be more likely than others because the governor
is now running as an independent,” he said. “Our state representatives aren’t as worried about the public perception of putting the governor through an override.”