Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

As other school projects were slashed, Sansom got $25.5 million for Northwest Florida State

TALLAHASSEE — Ousted House Speaker Ray Sansom has defended supersizing a $1 million budget item into $25.5 million for his hometown college "because the money was there."

But while the Destin Republican was showing such generosity, funding for projects at scores of other schools was being slashed.

The stark contrast further amplifies the controversial connections between Sansom and Northwest Florida State College that led to an ongoing grand jury investigation and cost him his position atop the House. (After two years of Sansom's budget largesse, the school hired him to an unadvertised six-figure job in November.)

A review of state records shows community colleges were forced to cut $42.5 million out of the state's construction budget for the current fiscal year, which was approved last spring, because the utility taxes supporting that budget were dwindling as Floridians conserved energy to save money.

• A Wesley Chapel branch of Pasco-Hernando Community College took a $6.5 million hit.

• Plans to renovate space at Miami-Dade Community College were scaled back by nearly $1.3 million.

• The library and fine arts building at Polk Community College suffered a $350,000 reduction.

Everyone shared the pain, including, at first, Northwest Florida State. But when it came time last May for the budget to be finalized, cuts to two smaller projects at the Panhandle college were restored, to the penny.

The $1 million installment for a renovated student services building at the Niceville campus avoided the knife all together, and then got a $24.5 million boost from Sansom, according to records reviewed by the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau.

The money will renovate existing space and add a floor to a building for a leadership institute — a project that Sansom and college president Bob Richburg worked behind the scenes to include in the budget. The new floor for the leadership institute hadn't been requested in previous years.

Sansom denies any correlation between the funds he secured for the small Panhandle college and the $110,000 job he was given in November, which he quit amid a statewide outcry. Over the two years that Sansom was the main budget writer for the House, the school got more than $35 million in extra or accelerated money.

Sansom said money spent on college construction is good for the economy and said the budget process is a transparent one.

The construction funds, known as Public Education Construction Outlay, or PECO, money, are supplied by taxes on utilities such as electricity, natural gas and telephones. The fund rises and falls with the state of Florida's economy. Last year, the supply of revenue was dwindling.

"People were conserving more," said Amy Baker, the state's chief economist.

Last March, Baker and the rest of the financial experts in Tallahassee met in what is known as a revenue estimating conference. They informed lawmakers there would be $180 million less in PECO money for the budget that Sansom and others were assembling. The share of that decrease to be absorbed by the state's 28 community colleges was $42.5 million.

The Department of Education retooled the PECO budget to reflect the changes and, by the end of March, it had proposed an overall $306 million budget.

For the most part, the cuts were locked in when the Legislature finished the budget in May. But the final spending plan still ballooned to $365 million, with nearly half the increase going to Northwest Florida State College, according to records.

"If you can close the doors and close out a budget and then suddenly, someone gets $25 million, I think that's a grave concern because it means the budget process is not working properly," said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, the higher education appropriations chair in the Senate.

The other big winner: Indian River Community College, which got $18.5 million for a science and math center in Port St. Lucie. The project was not in the original PECO budget, meaning it was added at the last minute.

Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, who was Senate president last year, has refused to discuss whether he had any role in that budget decision.

In an interview on Dec. 1, Sansom's first day on the job as a vice president of the college, Sansom told the Times/Herald that the PECO money was an economic stimulus tool and said the Northwest Florida State College project was one of a handful that legislative leaders decided should get accelerated funding "because the money was there this year."

When asked this week how that argument squares with documents showing cuts to other college projects, Sansom didn't answer directly. He said in an e-mail that his school's project was one of 19 that the Legislature decided to accelerate. He also noted that a number of projects funded were not on a Department of Education request list.

Ultimately, Sansom said, the entire budget is available for all to see. "Each PECO project is a line item in the budget — a budget that is provided to the 160 members of the House and Senate." Then there is a 72-hour review period followed by vote and review by the governor.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Alex Leary can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

As other school projects were slashed, Sansom got $25.5 million for Northwest Florida State 02/13/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 16, 2009 11:14am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. JFK's last birthday: Gifts, champagne and wandering hands on the presidential yacht


    It has been 100 years since John F. Kennedy's birth on May 29, 1917, at his parents' home in Brookline, Mass., just outside Boston. Over the course of his life, Kennedy enjoyed lavish birthday celebrations, the most famous being a Democratic fundraising bash at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, when a sequined …

    President John F. Kennedy aboard the Sequoia in 1963 opening birthday presents. [Robert Knudsen | John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum]
  2. 1 in 4 Florida adults aren't registered to vote, according to non-partisan group


    TALLAHASSEE — Five million people in Florida who are eligible to vote aren't registered, according to a nationwide non-partisan group that helps improve the accuracy of state voter rolls.

    Voters line up in front of the Coliseum Ballroom in St. Petersburg on Nov. 8. A non-partisan group estimates that more than a quarter of Florida's adult-age population isn't registered to vote. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  3. Rays morning after: A lot that went into a marathon win


    Rays manager Kevin Cash had a simple strategy when Fox Sports Sun's Alex Corddry asked him how the team would move on from Sunday's marathon win and get ready to face the Rangers tonight in Texas:

    Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays celebrates as teammate Michael Martinez slides safely into home plate to score a run against the Minnesota Twins during the 14th inning.
  4. Navy parachutist dies during demonstration over Hudson River


    JERSEY CITY, N.J. — In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, a Navy Seal team member fell to his death Sunday after his parachute failed to open during a Fleet Week demonstration over the Hudson River.

    Officials surround a U.S. Navy Seal's parachute that landed in a parking lot after the parachutist fell into the Hudson River when his parachute failed to open during a Fleet Week demonstration over the river in Jersey City, N.J. The Navy said the parachutist was pronounced dead at Jersey City Medical Center. [Joe Shine | Jersey Journal via AP]
  5. As White House defends Jared Kushner, experts question his alleged back-channel move


    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration argued over the weekend that back-channel communications are acceptable in building dialogue with foreign governments, part of an effort to minimize fallout over White House adviser Jared Kushner's reported discussion about creating a secret conduit to the Kremlin at a Russian …

    President-elect Donald Trump embraces son in law Jared Kushner, as his daughter Ivanka Trump stands nearby, after his acceptance speech at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of Nov. 9. [Mark Wilson | Getty Images]