USF-Poly bill finally hits House, but with a whimper, no bang
The long awaited Senate bill fulfilling JD Alexander’s wish to create the state’s 12th university was met with a whimpering ambivalence by the House on Friday, the last day of session.
Opposition was muted and discussion lasted barely 10 minutes for a bill (SB 1994) that had earlier promised to spoil efforts to get the House and Senate to agree on a budget.
Only two Democrats spoke against it. Rep. Dwight Bullard of Miami said he doubted in a year in which universities were absorbing $300 million in cuts and students were expected to pay more in tuition there was room for another school.
“It’s the wrong time and the wrong place,” Bullard said.
Rep. James Waldman of Coconut Creek said the university hadn’t been vetted by the House.
“We know this a member project from the other side,” Waldman said. “It might be a great idea. I just don’t know.”
All others who spoke for the bill and the new university were Republicans. Their main selling point was that the USF-Polytechnic students and faculty who would have been harmed in the Senate’s initial plan were protected in terms later negotiated by the House.
"It’s very clear that the students and faculty won’t be inconvenienced at all,” said Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland.
Why did a battle on the House floor that had earlier held promise for nuclear war fizzle instead?
Because even though representatives with the University of South Florida has resisted JD Alexander’s efforts to break away the school’s Lakeland campus and turn it into the state’s 12th university, they no longer do.
Subsequent negotiations between House and Senate leaders stuffed the restoration of funding that had been cut from USF into the bill allowing for the new university. So if SB 1994 fails, USF would be out $6 million for its pharmacy school and $10 million for the Lakeland’s schools faculty and students who would be folded back into USF.
It was a masterstroke by Alexander in ensuring little opposition to the bill when it finally wended its way to the House. For such a contentious bill that was so clearly identified with Alexander, the bill had the potential for getting spiked and stirring a war between House and Senate.
So by the time SB 1994 was brought to the House for the first time, the muted response was a welcome one for both Alexander and USF. Any negative attention brought to it could entice Gov. Rick Scott to veto it later.
The House still has to vote on it later today, but if the quick discussion this afternoon is any indication, looks like passage is a cinch.