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Alexander's 'new issue': $5-million for USF

At Saturday's budget conference in the Capitol, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander raised what he called a "new issue." It's an additional $5-million for the University of South Florida's polytechnic campus in Lakeland, in Alexander's home county of Polk.

"We would suggest a new issue to add $5-million recurring to the USF Polytechnical campus so we can hire the faculty and begin the programs to staff that campus up. It will be up and running in a couple of years," he said.

The $5-million was not part of USF's legislative budget request this session. USF Lakeland also figures in a separate higher education funding issue between the chambers. From the college construction program known as PECO, the Senate wants to give the campus $11-million for construction, while the House has offered $3.7-million. The lower amount was recommended by the Board of Governors.

Alexander's request becomes an obvious bargaining chip in down-to-the-wire budget talks with his House counterpart, Rep. David Rivera of Miami, who said he was going to discuss with his staff how to respond to Alexander's request. "That's what we're trying to do now," Rivera said.

-- Steve Bousquet