A major turkey in this year’s $70 billion budget was the creation of Florida’s 12th university, with the Senate’s powerful budget chairman, JD Alexander pushing for it for reasons only he can explain.
But with Alexander no longer in the Legislature, is support for Florida Polytechnic University waning?
Perhaps, if you go by the $14.2 billion education budget for next year that was released Wednesday by Alexander’s old chamber, the Senate. The $22.4 million that lawmakers had set aside for the university wasn’t included in the Senate budget. (House leaders say they won’t release their education budget until next week).
The chairman of the Senate’s education committee said the reason for the omission is simple: when he asked the university how they were to spend the money, he never heard back.
“Before I included that in our budget, I wanted to see what the plan was,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. “Is this for capital or for operations? Given the amount of money, the way the law reads, the lack of an existing program, I just wanted to see where we are.”
He said the $22.4 million isn’t necessarily earmarked for operations yet, because the university hasn’t enrolled any students and has no operations to speak of, Galvano said. The law that created the university says the money next year could be used for capital expenses, so Galvano wanted to make sure how this money was being spent. The university has more than $100 million set aside for its facilities and reserves, but Galvano said he needed to know how the recurring costs were getting spent.
“It seems to me that the university is just a building at this point,” Galvano said.
Galvano said that’s not mean he doesn’t support it, just that he needs more information and that he hopes to hear from Florida Poly officials soon.
His counterpart in the House, education appropriations chair Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said he believed Galvano’s omission was “symbolic”, a gambit for something that he hasn’t explained yet.
“(The House) recognizes the existence of Florida Poly and has no appetite for its demise at this point,” Fresen said.
Fresen said he’s still waiting for guidance on the issue from House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. Weatherford seems to regret his decision to vote for it last year, but has also said that since it exists now, the state should be trying to make it a success.
And with Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, as his House Appropriations Chair, don't expect that money to vanish. McKeel’s district would benefit if Florida Poly got built.
So what does McKeel have to say?
“It’s a long process,” McKeel said. “And I’m sure they’ll see the value of (Chairman of the Poly Board of Trustees) Rob Gidel’s vision for what they’re doing.”
Gidel better get ready to charm lawmakers. Last month, Florida Poly backed off asking for another $25 million after lawmakers and the state Board of Governors expressed concern that the newly created university was asking for additional dollars so soon.
Now the school is finding out the money they were counting on is no sure bet either.
Where have you gone, JD Alexander?