Scott wrong to cut college construction funds

In an unsurprising move sure to appease his tea party supporters, Gov. Rick Scott threatened Tuesday to veto a set of college construction projects worth $134 million. However, such a veto jeopardizes job creation and long-term economic growth, Scott’s supposed goals.

USF stands to be the largest recipient of college construction funds in Florida’s 2011-12 budget. Lakeland’s Polytechnic campus, the future home of USF’s planned pharmacy school, was slated to receive $46 million for vital construction projects.

Mark Walsh, USF’s director of government relations, said a full veto of construction funds would delay the opening of the new Polytechnic campus by at least a year. He said the governor seems more focused on cutting government spending than the merits of USF’s project.

The Polytechnic plan delegates $10 million for sewer and water infrastructure for the new campus, as well as construction funds for its first building. The construction projects are funded by a program called Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO), which is funded by a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on electric, gas and telecommunications utilities, according to the Miami Herald. The PECO program has existed for decades.

Scott’s possible veto is part of his plan to balance Florida’s budget, which is facing a more than $3.5 billion deficit, this fiscal year. In addition to possibly cutting $134 million in PECO funds, he also proposed in March to cut an incredible $3.3 billion from public education, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Yet, Scott promised in his campaign to leave education funding untouched.

Interestingly, his plan also happens to include $1.7 billion in corporate income tax cuts, and he has promised to completely eliminate Florida’s corporate income tax by 2018. Essentially, Scott is cutting programs to fill a budget hole he is helping to create.

Scott’s stated goal is to help build Florida’s economic engine by creating jobs. Yet, cutting education construction spending kills short-term construction jobs and reduces the state’s ability to train workers for high-tech and pharmacy jobs that will drive tomorrow’s economy.

He is unwise to cut education spending so drastically, and cutting the PECO funds would be an added offense. Often one to cite constitutionality, perhaps Scott should review Florida’s constitution, which states in Article 9 that “adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools that allow students to obtain a high-quality education.”

It’s sad that Scott is sacrificing public education for the sake of corporate interests. Citizens should ask why Scott plans to eliminate the state’s income tax on corporations at the expense of education.