TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott continues to get a lot of advice from both sides as he considers whether to sign or veto a bill that spins off USF Polytechnic in Lakeland into a 12th state university.
As Scott sipped on a bottle of Perrier in his Capitol office Thursday, he said he has not made up his mind, but he framed both sides' arguments as he sees them.
"The question on one side is going to be, is this something that we can afford. Can we afford a 12th university when we know it's difficult," Scott said in a Times/Herald interview, citing multibillion-dollar budget deficits in his first two years in office. "The other side of it is that people in the Lakeland area think they're underserved. It's going to be something I believe in — science, technology, engineering and math — so that's a real positive. But there's lots of arguments."
Scott acknowledged that whatever he decides, one side won't be pleased.
"I have people on both sides, and they're calling," Scott said. "The people in the Tampa area are very much opposed to it and the people in the Lakeland area are generally very supportive of it. And the rest of the state's not that engaged in the debate."
If Scott does approve the bill (SB 1994), he would then have to appoint members of the new Florida Polytechnic board of trustees. Asked whether the new university's leading advocate in the Capitol, Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, has lobbied him on the bill, Scott said: "Not since session ended."
The regular session adjourned March 9.
Scott flashed his sense of humor when he was asked whether he would consider appointing Alexander to the Poly board. "Wouldn't Judy (Genshaft, USF president) want him on USF's board?" Scott asked. "No one's asked me that, and he hasn't asked me that."
The Legislature hasn't sent Scott the bill yet. After he gets it, he must act within 15 calendar days. USF spokesman Michael Hoad said the university has spoken with Scott's chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, but can't tell which way Scott is leaning.
"They're not giving us anything definitive," Hoad said.
Hoad said USF has emphasized to the governor's office that the school's first priority is to protect the students and faculty who are enrolled at the existing USF Poly campus and to make sure that the fledgling College of Pharmacy at USF is protected.