With the possibility of less state revenue for higher education in Florida, the Board of Governors (BOG) knows it’s a long shot. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.
After not receiving the total amount of funding requested for the current fiscal year, the BOG approved two budget requests for the state legislature to consider for the State University System (SUS) on Wednesday.
The BOG meeting was the first of a two-day meeting held at Florida International University. Members approved the 2012-13 SUS Fixed Capital Outlay Legislative Budget Request, which includes funding for Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) to assist in construction and maintenance. The request includes $21 million in PECO Projects for USF.
The members also approved a nearly $4 billion 2012-13 SUS and Board General Office Legislative Budget Request, which invests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs.
Director of Government Relations for the USF System Mark Walsh, who attended the meeting, said USF is advocating for all of the items within both requests.
“There are a few sides to operating the University,” he said. “One of them is the operational dollars, which is kind of the STEM part, and then there are the capital dollars, which are the construction and maintenance of the facilities. They are both very important to the University.”
Walsh said part of PECO funding includes taxes and bonding – or “taking out a loan.”
“There’s cash in the PECO fund and then there’s bonding that is allowed based on future revenue,” he said. “When you look at how much those individual taxes are going to generate, in (the legislators’) opinion, over the next year in particular … (the state) takes the amount of revenue that those taxes will generate and they take the first slice off the top of that and use it to pay down any debt (from prior projects that were bonded) by issuing bonds.”
According to BOG documents, about $2.9 million was vetoed in facility maintenance at USF, because Gov. Rick Scott took a stance to not create any more debt, Walsh said.
“He vetoed almost every PECO project on the list,” he said. “So his position has been … as the cash comes in, you can build with that cash, but PECO is budgeted based on the assumption that you would bond for additional debt. The amount of revenue available varies greatly on whether the Legislature and governor permit a state to bond for an additional project. So once they know how much is available, then they appropriate the project out to the State University System ,including USF.”
In the request, the BOG approved asking for last year’s vetoed funds to be appropriated for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
BOG Finance and Facilities Director Chris Kinsley said last year, the Legislature approved $137.2 million in PECO funds, of which Scott only approved $57.3 million.
Kinsley said said the PECO funding is a primary source.
“We need these PECO funds desperately – not only for new facilities, but also to maintain the existing (ones),” he said. “PECO is the capital fund source for the State University System. I think it’s easy for the general public sometime to overlook that. They see us constructing parking garages and housing and even athletic facilities, forgetting that those aren’t paid with PECO whatsoever – those are self-financed projects. In terms of educational space, PECO is all we really have.”
Kinsley said there are barely enough appropriations for renovations during the current fiscal year.
“What’s going to get us through this year, in all honesty, is some of those prior appropriations of infrastructure,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll have an institution that will need to close down a facility.”
BOG member John Temple said maintenance of infrastructure should be a priority over new facility projects.
“I wish we had known it was going to be this bad when we approved of all of the money for Florida Polytechnic, but that’s in the past,” he said. “Clearly, as we go forward, we have to finish projects that we started. We (have) got to provide maintenance … that’s just crazy not to do that.”
Scott approved $35 million for Polytechnic for the current legislative season.
Walsh said the USF Board of Trustees requested for on-campus facility maintenance to be a priority.
“A lot, in USF Tampa in particular, was built in the ’60s and ’70s, and it has infrastructure that is in need of upkeep – whether that’s pipes, walls and floors and sewers and lights on campus,” he said. “We absolutely have to do that to maintain the facilities we have today.”
Among the four USF campuses, USF Polytechnic was the only location that was not appropriated infrastructure funds, Walsh said.
“We have infrastructure requests on the Tampa campus, the St. Pete campus and the Sarasota campus,” he said. “We don’t have one for the USF Polytechnic at this point and time because their infrastructure needs are paid with Polk State College because that’s who they share the campus with.”
BOG chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee Tico Perez said during the meeting that the legislature requested state agencies prepare a 10 percent budget reduction plan for the upcoming fiscal year.
“I know that is not good news for anyone, but these are also just plans at this time and it’s (not) prudent to anticipate what could happen,” he said. “It’s clearly an advocacy budget … and it includes in that budget a cornerstone – the New Florida Initiative, which focuses on STEM research and … improving graduation rates.”
BOG Chief Financial Officer Tim Jones said during the meeting that tuition increases have helped offset the budget reductions in the past four years.
“In 2007-08 we were at $963 million (in tuition) and we are currently at $1.5 billion,” he said.
According to his presentation, there has been about a $569 million reduction in state funds appropriations since then.
The BOG meetings will continue today. One item on the agenda is to discuss the future of the Polytechnic campus, which may split from the USF System and whose Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation is currently suspended until a decision is reached.
USF President Judy Genshaft and Regional Chancellor Marshall Goodman will discuss the initiative today.