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USF medical school reckons with $1.7 million cut in state spending

Preliminary drawings of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute for downtown Tampa. [University of South Florida]
Preliminary drawings of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute for downtown Tampa. [University of South Florida]
Published Jun. 25, 2019

TAMPA — Despite receiving $12.4 million from the state this year for construction costs of its new downtown Tampa building, officials with the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute were surprised by a last-minute $1.7 million cut to its operating budget.

Gov. Ron Desantis vetoed a line item in the state's budget that allocated $1.7 million toward the operating budget specifically for USF's medical school, an annual lump sum the university has received from the state for years, as more medical schools were established at other state-funded universities.

"The genesis of this funding came from a study by the board of governors for the State University System of Florida, which identified funding on a per medical school student basis," said Mark Walsh, a lobbyist who represents USF in Tallahassee. "USF and the University of Florida have longstanding medical schools, and this money was meant to keep medical school funding at an equitable level after four newer medical schools were founded post 2000."

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Those four new medical schools at public universities are at Florida State University, the University of Central Florida, Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University.

The University of Florida medical school did not receive any cuts this year to its operating budget, Walsh said.

"We were somewhat surprised as it's just general operating dollars," he said. "It's not toward a specific project and it wasn't discussed during the legislative session. But not all vetoes are created equal."

It's too early to tell how the university plans to make up the loss, Walsh said, but he described the $1.7 million cut as "not an insignificant amount."

"Vetoes are difficult when they are so fresh,'' he said. "We don't have a plan yet, but we want to make sure that the students don't feel the impact. We're going to have to make some tough decisions."

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USF Health, the banner that oversees the medical school and several other health-related colleges, received $150 million in total appropriations from the state as a public university. About $70 million of that comes from general revenues and lottery funding. Another $60 million comes from tuition.

USF did receive $12.4 million from the state this year that will go toward construction costs of the new medical building in downtown Tampa. This is the last round of funding the university needed from the state, which totals to $110 million that came from the state over the years. Walsh described it as "one of the most expensive projects" the state has ever funded. USF officials will raise another $60 million for the project through philanthropy and other areas, Walsh said. Construction began in September 2017, and the$153 million building is expected to open late this year.

"The construction project has been the No. 1 priority," he said.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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