Gov. Scott set to sign state budget today

Gov. Rick Scott will travel to a Jacksonville elementary school today to sign the $70.8 billion budget that has concerned USF students and faculty since its formation.

The budget will decide the total funding to state universities, whether USFs Polytechnic branch campus will become an independent 12th public university and the possibility of a state-wide 15 percent tuition hike, which Scott has previously said he opposes. The governor has the power of line-item vetoing specific items and does not have to accept any budget item in whole.

After debates with the House of Representatives and the Senate, USF stands to lose $36.9 million, or 21 percent of its existing base budget. If the 15 percent tuition differential were approved, the total impact of cuts to USF would be 11 percent.

University spokesman Michael Hoad said USF has waited to do the bulk of its financial planning until after Scott signs the budget.

Well see what the governor does, he said. You cant enter a planning process thinking youll get a certain amount and then get more than that, or potentially less than that. Our history and USF has been dealing with budget cuts since 2007 is to be very careful and very cautious to ensure that the cuts dont injure academic programs, and thats what we intend to do this time.

The initial budget proposal was drafted in the Senate Budget Committee by Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, a staunch advocate for Polytechnics immediate split from USF, and riled up the USF community when it proposed to decrease USFs budget by $79 million, or 58 percent. A conforming bill written by Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, with help from Alexander proposed to immediately separate Polytechnic from the USF System, despite the Board of Governors (BOG) proposal to gradually separate it over a five-year period as it achieves certain benchmarks.

If the Polytechnic campus were to be immediately separated, USF would be granted a recurring $6 million to cover costs of moving the College of Pharmacy to the Tampa campus and $10 million to integrate Polytechnic professors into the USF System after a five-year teach out plan, which would allow Polytechnic faculty to teach all existing Polytechnic students until they graduate.

BOG Executive Director of Communications Kelly Layman said in a March email to The Oracle that the BOG would be ready to assist USF and the Polytechnic campus upon Scotts decision.

The Board of Governors has been actively working through its Select Committee on USF Polytechnic to assist with USFs transition issues as a result of the benchmarks that the full Board voted on at its November 2011 meeting, she said. If the Governor signs the bill from the 2012 Session that calls for immediate independence, the Board of Governors would need to work quickly this spring and summer to institute a new approach.