Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State senator wants to cut USF think tank's funding

TAMPA — The Florida Department of Transportation should stop paying a University of South Florida think tank millions of dollars to advise policymakers on how to improve transportation, a powerful state senator said Monday.

"Tax dollars are being wasted and individuals at this think tank go along with whomever is paying their salaries," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "Let them find revenue from somewhere else. This well has just about run dry."

Fasano chairs a Senate committee that oversees how the DOT spends its money. Over the past eight years, the agency has paid USF's Center for Urban Transportation Research $26.8 million to study and give advice on a variety of issues, including toll roads, road rangers, bus safety and drug abuse.

Fasano said he didn't know the DOT had been paying CUTR (pronounced cutter) for research until he read a story in Saturday's St. Petersburg Times. The story reported CUTR has consistently criticized rail, which it doesn't get money to study, while it has championed alternatives such as road expansion and bus rapid transit, which it is paid to research.

"It's wild," Fasano said. "None of us knew that some of our taxpayer money was going to some think tank. It's laughable that the DOT has paid it $26 million. This is why people don't trust government."

Officials at the center say they play no favorites when evaluating transportation options and their scholarship isn't swayed by the money the center gets.

Fasano, who supports commuter rail, said he was concerned that CUTR had an anti-rail bias. But he said it was the amount of money the DOT has paid CUTR, especially in tough economic times, that is more worrisome.

As the chairman of the Senate's Committee on Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations, Fasano helps decide what gets included — and excluded — from the DOT budget. He said he'll consider proposing a budget that eliminates future funding for think tanks.

If CUTR does lose DOT funding, it would be a major blow. Founded in 1988, the center has 45 researchers. USF pays only a portion of their salaries. It gets the rest from grants, most of it from the DOT. In 2008 alone, CUTR was awarded $2.9 million in DOT money.

"The DOT is a significant sponsor of our research," said Ed Mierzejewski, CUTR's director. When told about Fasano's comments, he referred questions to the DOT.

"Every project that we work on has a scope of work that the DOT has agreed for us to do," Mierzejewski said. "(The DOT) must presume that this is something we should do."

DOT Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos couldn't be reached for comment. Fasano said he spoke with her over the weekend, but she hadn't read the article.

Fasano reviewed a list of grants DOT awarded CUTR since 2001. He specifically questioned $600,000 the center received in grants to advise the DOT on drug abuse and $75,000 to study the state's Road Ranger program.

"Someone will have to convince me between now and the spring, when we decide the budget, that these expenses were necessary," Fasano said. "Right now, I'm not convinced."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at or (813) 226-3402.

State senator wants to cut USF think tank's funding 11/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 7:55am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Chasing 125: Bucs hope to hit rushing goal more often


    Ever so often, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter pulls back the curtain a bit and shares some of the stats that matter to him most as a coach.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017.
  2. Two Boca Ciega students arrested on charges they brought gun to high school football game


    PINELLAS PARK — Two Boca Ciega High School students were arrested for having a loaded semi-automatic handgun with them at a Friday night football game at Pinellas Park High School.

    Two Boca Ciega High School students were arrested for bringing a weapon on school property on Friday night at a high school football game at Pinellas Park High School.
  3. Bucs-Jaguars was NFL's lowest-rated ESPN game since 2005


    It is just the preseason, and it is the Jaguars, but Thursday night's Bucs-Jags preseason game earned a 1.6 rating on ESPN, which is the lowest-rated preseason game (excluding NFL Network) in 12 years, according to Sports Media Watch.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, left, talks with coach Dirk Koetter during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
  4. Crash at U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park kills one, shuts down traffic


    PINELLAS PARK — A man is dead after a crash between two cars at the intersection of U.S. Highway 19 and 70th Avenue N just after 7 a.m. Saturday.

    Pinellas Park police are investigating the death of a man during a crash on U.S. 19 early Saturday. (Pinellas Park police)
  5. Tropics watch: The latest on Harvey and what systems could hit Florida


    While Eastern and Central America monitor the progress of Tropical Storm Harvey, two tropical disturbances are moving through the Atlantic.