For Tampa Bay business community, a call to arms to aid a USF under severe, petty attack
Wake up and good morning. This is a call to arms to the Tampa Bay business community. One of Tampa Bay's most treasured institutions and, frankly, its greatest economic engine is under direct attack right now.
The University of South Florida has been targeted by remarkably petty and vindictive Senate budget writers who want to punish USF for resisting the bullying efforts of lame duck Sen. J.D. Alexander (left) to spin off USF's Lakeland branch campus as Florida Polytechnic and make it an independent university. By not kissing Alexander's ring quickly and often enough in this quest, the Senate now seeks to gut USF's budget from state funding by nearly 60 percent. By contrast, the same budget cuts in state funding mean trims of just 26 percent at the University of Florida and 22 percent at Florida State University. A new Polytechnic would suffer no cuts at all.
Budget cuts of such magnitude alone are ludicrous to an already thinly supported state university system. As a source of innovation, workforce training, and a pure measure of whether Florida can compete in the global big leagues, the state university system is a precious commodity. It should be nurtured, not butchered. And under no circumstances should one of its shining lights, USF, be targeted by political tactics smacking of Backwater USA or worse.
Come on, Tampa Bay business community. If there was ever a time to rally, to get mad as hell, to not take it any more and to show some backbone to aid one of this region's economic and education cornerstones, this is it.
I'm not going to repeat what's already been written. Tampa Bay Times writer Kim Wilmath has the news of what happened here and the Times editorial is on point. Tampa Bay Times opinion writer Dan Ruth's satire on the political hacks behind this attack on USF can be found here. The Tampa Tribune editorial rips Senate President Mike Haridopolis for assuring the public he would never allow such grotesque power grabs as Alexander's to occur and then, no surprise given the Senate president's wimpy track record, doing nothing to stop it.
Even the Lakeland Ledger, which arguably might be more geographically sympathetic to an independent university in Polk County found little top praise in Alexander's sorry excuse for leadership. "Alexander crossed the line of propriety, trampling the turf of the University System," a Ledger editorial says. That's too polite by my book, but to each his own. You get the idea.
Let's not leave out Alexander's henchman in this sorry tale. Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach (right), slipped this bill to punish USF into the budget process, with Alexander's input. Lynn argued -- if this can be deemed an argument -- that a law establishing an independent Polytech is needed now because the state university's Board of Governors process is too slow. Let's add the title of Alexander Toady to Lynn's resume for this one. And let's watch for her political payback to come, at some time, in exchange for this pathetic power grab.
If Florida had a stronger leader in its governor, I'd be less concerned. Will Gov. Rick Scott step in and help fix this fiasco, or stay in the background parroting jobs, jobs, jobs as a core university gets skewered?
Tallahassee, you embarrass us all.
So, Tampa Bay businesses. So, Chambers of Commerce. So, Tampa Bay Partnership. USF President Judy Genshaft's helped run many of your economic development organizations. She has been the staunchest of allies in trying to build a stronger economic base in this region. There is no greater economic engine for Tampa Bay than USF.
What are you going to do about this?
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times