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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Council of 100 to Scott: veto Poly bill, sign tuition bill



 The Florida Council of 100 says the state cannot afford another university in a year when the existing 11 are having to endure $300 million in budget cuts. That was just one argument of many in a letter sent to Gov. Rick Scott today, urging him to veto SB 1994, which would immediately create Florida Polytechnic. 

"You have repeatedly and correctly stated that the decision to invest taxpayer dollars should be based on an objective analysis of the return on investment," wrote council President Steven Halverson (letter attached). "Plainly, the case for Florida Polytechnic University has not been made."

Scott has until next Saturday to make a decision.

The bill, championed by Senate budget chairman JD Alexander in his final Legislative session, would create the university out of USF's branch campus in Polk County without students, build lings or accreditation. It short-cuts a "reasoned and deliberative" decision already made by the Florida Board of Governors last year, to allow the campus to split off only after meeting certain benchmarks, including those basic ingredients.

The letter from the council comes a day after Alexander made his own pitch to Scott about why the new university is needed. Alexander said he's not sure the state can afford not to have it.

The council didn't exactly see his point.

Among the concerns: 

The state is already having trouble paying for basic maintenance on existing university buildings. The fund that pays for those things, known as PECO (Public Education Capital Outlay), is operating at a deficit. That's because the money comes from a tax on utilities on things like land-line phones and electricity, while more and more people now rely on cell phones while conserving energy in their homes.

Building a new university focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs is " is the slowest and most expensive way to produce more STEM graduates in the state," the letter states. While the new Poly business plan projects growing to a 5,750 STEM enrollment in the next 14 years, continual budget cuts to existing universities are forcing them to cut their own STEM programs. 

Just this week, students on the University of Florida campus protested a proposal to eliminate the school's Computer and Information Science and Engineering program due to budget cuts. UF's engineering dean, Cammy Abernathy, said the program will merge with an existing electrical and computer engineering department as part of the department's need to cut $4 million. That's on top of $15 million in recurring and nonrecurring money that one department has had to cut since 2007. "It's very painful," Abernathy said

More simply, "There's no evidence that a new state university is even needed," Halverson wrote.

"The Council of 100 wholeheartedly supports making our state university system the best in the country.  The future of Florida depends on it. Deciding where and how to invest scarce resources to achieve that objective should be the product of a fact-based, thorough analysis of the return on investment.  That analysis hasn’t been done, and until it is, we urge you to guard the system of accountability that the BOG process represents and veto SB 1994."

Interestingly, one of the members of the Council of 100's board of directors has a close tie to Alexander -- Ben Hill Griffin III is his uncle.

Meanwhile, the council sent another letter to Scott (also attached) asking him to sign a bill that would allow top universities to charge higher tuition, HB 7129, after meeting certain quality benchmarks. Right now only UF and Florida State University meet the criteria. Scott hasn't said what he'll do on that bill either. He just received it today and has 15 days to act.

[Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012 6:05pm]


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