State Sen. JD Alexander took one of his scare cards off the table Wednesday in his play to eviscerate the University of South Florida. But that does not level the playing field for USF, regardless of the hot air and obfuscation coming from some of his colleagues on the Senate Budget Committee. USF president Judy Genshaft, the student body and the Tampa Bay community need to keep the heat on.
Alexander abandoned his bid to hold back $25 million from USF as a contingency tied to completing the foolish transformation of its Lakeland campus into a 12th independent university. That's progress, as far as it goes. But Wednesday's committee meeting was only the first round. There is plenty left to be done, and Tampa Bay's legislators should insist on nothing less for USF than equal treatment.
The proposed state budget the full Senate will consider next week still would cut USF disproportionately. The university still would suffer a cut of $79 million in state funding. It still would lose another $6 million it has now to operate its new College of Pharmacy. It still would have to absorb $18 million in faculty, staff and student costs at USF Polytechnic in Lakeland as the campus becomes independent. USF still would be in the red and face significant layoffs, and that is untenable and fundamentally unfair.
Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, represented the interests of USF and Tampa Bay well on Wednesday in the Budget Committee. Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has promised that the House will accept nothing less than equitable treatment. Those lawmakers have to continue to step up and enlist their colleagues to ensure USF is treated fairly.
Alexander is a poker player, and he plays rough in Tallahassee. The Lake Wales Republican gave up one card on Wednesday, but he has others to play as he pushes to grant USF Poly immediate independence and punish USF for standing up to him. He should not get away with it.