With the flick of his pen, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed portions of the 2017-18 budget, part of which would have gone to public universities.
While the Legislature met for a special session last week, the meeting did not change much in regard to higher education.
In previous years, according to the Vice President for Government Relations Mark Walsh, all funding for the university appeared as a single budget item. University funding was either approved or vetoed in its totality.
This year’s budget was broken down into different categories. By doing so, Scott can do a line-item veto for certain requests.
“The majority of the vetoes were things that were in our projects, specific projects, that had been in our base operating line, and this year the Legislature made the decision to unpack those base budgets and lift them all out,” Walsh said.
“Most of them were existing projects … mainly they were projects funded by individual legislative sponsors in prior years that had been funded with recurring dollars and are now vetoed.”
As part of the budget, USF will receive about $60 million more than last year, according to Walsh. Portions go toward construction costs while others are for standard operating.
The downtown health center will cost $152.6 million and will be housed in the heart of Tampa. It will be funded largely by the state and private donations. The Florida government is providing all but $41 million for the project, and this budget allocated $12 million.
The new building has been credited with to USF Health’s record number of applicants the past two years.
However, the university system lost approximately $9.4 million as well. The reduction includes funding for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center cannabis research and for the oceanography institute housed at USF.
Moffitt Cannabis Research
In total, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center was denied over $1.1 million for a cannabis research board and a coalition for medical cannabis research.
Back in November, 71 percent of Florida voters favored legalizing medical marijuana for patients with debilitating diseases or conditions such as HIV/AIDS, PTSD and cancer. Florida was the 26th state to legalize a form of marijuana.
In March, Sen. Bill Galvano (R) and Jackie Toledo (R) began pushing for Moffitt to become a hub of marijuana research. At the time Moffitt director Thomas Sellers supported the idea of studying the health impact on users. The bill passed unanimously by the education committee.
The purpose of the coalition would be to “conduct rigorous scientific research, provide education, disseminate research and to guide policy for the adoption of a statewide policy on ordering and dosing practices for the medicinal use of marijuana,” Galvano said.
According to WCTV, the push by lawmakers for research funding was focused on better understanding of how marijuana should be classified. Scott said both Moffitt and the University of Florida — which would have received about $2 million for marijuana research — have plenty of money to fund their own studies.
Members at USF Health could not be reached for comment.
Florida Institute of Oceanography
While the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) is not specifically part of the university, it’s housed at USF. It supports all 12 public universities in addition to 10 other higher education institutions. The program saw a loss of nearly $1.2 million.
“We work to support marine and marine education across the entire state of Florida,” Philip Kramer, FIO director, said. “That program was supporting the subsidized ship program and that is a program that’s been one of the hallmarks of FIO for the last 30 years.”
The program allows FIO to give its members access to expensive research vessels at a reduced price. Participating institutions are permitted to use the vessels each year for educational exploration and research.
This recurring fund was approved by and received financing from the legislature approximately five years ago. It also allowed FIO to expand the program from virtually nothing, according to Kramer.
“We are looking at all of our programs right now,” Kramer said. “We have to follow the Florida statute that says we can’t just continue to fund programs that were specifically vetoed by the governor. We are looking at our options right now, but we are likely to have to reduce significantly the number of subsidized days we can offer.”