USF projects survive vetoes in final budget

Rick Scott signed the largest budget in Florida's history Tuesday. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

While Gov. Rick Scott signed the largest state budget in Florida’s history of $78.2 billion on Tuesday morning, Scott also made the most expensive vetoes of any Florida governor, amounting to approximately $461 million in cut projects and programs from the Legislature’s approved budget.

The final budget includes no increases to tuition rates and a historic level of funding for state universities totaling $4.5 billion, a $178.2 million increase from last year.

New tax cuts include a first-ever elimination of sales tax on the purchase of college textbooks for one year, which is expected to save Florida’s students $43.7 million according to the governor’s transmittal letter.  

The budget also provides for a 10-day back to school sales tax holiday Aug. 7-16 this year, which will allow for tax-free purchases on school supplies and is projected to save Floridians $67.8 million.

Performance-based funding, money awarded to colleges and universities based on mutually agreed upon metrics of student success, has grown to
$400 million for the State University System (SUS), marking a $100 million increase in new state revenue. 

For individual state universities and colleges, the new budget has likely garnered mixed reactions, and while some schools’ projects were funded in full, others did not survive Scott’s veto pen.

USF’s two largest funding requests, $17 million for building the Morsani College of Medicine downtown and $12.3 million for finishing the construction of the USF St. Petersburg’s Kate Tiedemann College of Business, successfully passed through the budget untouched. At a combined $29.3 million, the two requests were the largest of any university in the state.

With the final funding amount approved, USF St.Pete’s new College of Business is expected to open fall 2016.

Other universities and colleges were not as fortunate, including Hillsborough County Community College, which did not receive $3 million for the addition of a student services center and community center on its SouthShore campus.

The Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) was also included in the long list of vetoes made by Scott. FIO is an independent entity of the SUS and represents about 30 different state agencies and institutes who work collaboratively through the Institute, which is headquartered at USF St. Petersburg. 

FIO did not receive a requested $6 million for the construction of a new research vessel that would replace its now 40-year-old R/V Bellows.

Including the Bellows, the Institute only possesses two research vessels which all state universities in the SUS can use for marine research and education, which means professors of marine science and oceanography may have to compete for space to train students.

“To my understanding, the Bellows brings in 100-150 sea days a year, which translates to about half a million to three-quarters of a million dollars in research,” said Kristen Buck, a chemical oceanographer at the College of Marine Science at USF. “The way this field works is if you don’t have a ship available, you would typically go somewhere else. That could take research funds away from either the state of Florida or an institution here.”

A letter from Scott’s office states the request was vetoed because “there is available funding throughout the State University System that could be used by the institutions desiring to purchase this vessel.” However, FIO director William Hogarth said he feels the money is not currently there.

“We can’t buy (a new research vessel) with the budget we have,” Hogarth said. “(It’s) impossible unless somebody who can afford it would step up to the plate and say they think Florida’s marine resources are worth it and Florida’s future tourism and restaurants and teaching are all worth the investment of $6 million.”