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Despite last year's promises, Florida Polytechnic asking for more cash

Published Feb. 15, 2013

One of the biggest selling points Sen. JD Alexander made as he pushed to create a new state university last year is that it would cost little to no extra money initially. He told everyone that the tax dollars already allocated for what was then University of South Florida-Polytechnic and is now Florida Polytechnic University would be enough get the new school up and running.

Already, the school is singing a new tune. The Polytechnic Board of Trustees recently decided to ask the Legislature for an extra $25 million to finish its first building, first reported in the Lakeland Ledger.

That has Rep. Mike Fasano, the New Port Richey Republican who along with Alexander was term-limited from the Senate last year, fuming. Last year, Fasano voiced concern about how much the new school would cost. Now he is trying hard not to say, "I told you so."

"The bottom line here is that we were not told the truth," Fasano said today. "And that this boondoggle, a 12th university, will cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars for years to come. A university that was not needed and was all to accommodate one state senator."

On Feb. 5, the Florida Poly Board of Trustees agreed to ask the Legislature to aid with construction costs, the Ledger reported. The operating dollars the school already receives, $22 million a year, should be used strictly for academics, the board decided.

Florida Poly chief operating officer Ava Parker is supposed to be drafting a plan for how she will ask the Legislature for the money. The Times/Herald hasn't been able to reach Parker to get more details about when and to whom she will officially make her pitch.

Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, is chairman of the House's budget committee and a longtime Polytechnic supporter. So far, he's made no promises to carry the school's water.

"Chair McKeel did have an informal meeting with Florida PolyTech to generally discuss an overview of their progress, but no formal request for funding was made," spokeswoman Kristen McDonald said via email today.

McKeel also released a statement that did not indicate whether he would be willing to heed Polytechnic's anticipated plea for cash: "There is a long line of requests for state funding. During our budget development process this year, we will review and evaluate those requests in a deliberate manner and make prudent decisions in the best interest of Floridians."

Generally, state university budgeting is done as a unit through a request submitted to the governor and Legislature by the Board of Governors.

It is not unusual for individual schools to petition lawmakers directly for special projects. However, the size of Florida Polytechnics's request, the lack of details about why the school needs additional money now and the promises made last year that this very thing would not occur make it a surprising turn of events.


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