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Largely uncontested, Poly bill passes Senate

Much like in the House hours earlier, the Senate had nominal resistance to a bill that would split off USF Polytechnic into the state's 12th university --  only the few senators who have already made it clear they think the idea is a bad one spoke out.

Creating the university is a top priority of exiting Republican Lake Wales Sen. JD Alexander, chair of the Senate's budget. 

The Senate approved the move 36-4. The House is still awaiting a vote on the bill. 

Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, again had concerns about cost, asking Sen. Evelyn Lynn, who chairs the Senate's higher education committee where SB 1994 first appeared, to further explain her assertion a couple weeks ago that creating the new university would not require additional money.

Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, relented a bit. While this year the university is simply taking over the budget of USF Polytechnic, in future years it would require new dollars, she told Oelrich.

Sens. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, questioned Lynn about Poly's overall budget cut compared to USF Tampa's.

Poly got cut 19 percent -- its budget dropping to 22 milllion from last year's 27 million, when it was still under USF. This year USF Tampa got cut 21 percent, Lynn said. Additionally, USF Tampa will get an extra $10 million to educate the existing students at USF Poly -- keeping them under USF's umbrella until they graduate.

Meanwhile, the new Polytech will begin without any students, starting from scratch to earn accreditation and build up its now greenfield campus.

"So there's 10 million for the USF students, then 22 million for Polytech, which right now doesn't have any students." Dockery said.

The bill passed 36-4, with Oelrich, Dockery, Fasano and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, R-Tampa, voting no.

If the House gives the okay, the bill will then be in the hands of Gov. Rick Scott. Scott has said he favors an independence path already laid out by the Florida Board of Governors, which would require the campus to meet benchmarks -- accreditation, a couple buildings, a minimum enrollment, to name a few -- before splitting off. But he said this week that he still hadn't made up his mind.

"I sat down with JD Alexander the other day," Scott said, "and he was telling me his reason why he thinks it ought to happen."