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Senators try to explain the inexplicable on USF cuts

Published Feb. 16, 2012

They are not all liars. That's important to understand.

Some members of the Florida Senate seem to genuinely believe what they are doing and saying is completely honest, pure and without agenda.

So, no, they are not all liars.

Which means some may just be morons.

It was stunning to listen to these legislators try to explain the inexplicable on Wednesday. To hear them say the University of South Florida had no reason to be angry about a fatwa disguised as a budget.

When asked how they arrived at seemingly random cuts that singled out USF, these lawmakers talked a lot about cash reserves. Said it was all about taking money from schools that had the fattest savings accounts and could absorb the biggest cuts.

So how is it that Florida State, which far outdistanced every other university in cash reserves, endured substantially smaller cuts than four other schools?

Well, silly, it wasn't just cash reserves. It was also tuition rates and the ability to make money off master's and doctorate programs.

So the University of Florida is bringing up the rear on master's programs? Because UF has the same cash reserves as Florida Atlantic but was not cut nearly as much.

Well, by gosh, there were other factors. Important factors. Maybe top-secret factors.

So in order to stake out the political high ground with no new taxes, the Senate is sticking it to university students?

Heavens, no. How could you suggest such a thing? But of course, if USF wants to make up the shortfall, it should feel free to raise tuition.

And so it went.

Legislators did not adequately explain why it was a good idea to ignore the Board of Governors and stubbornly push through the creation of a new polytechnic university in the same year that includes a $400 million shortfall.

And they didn't really explain why USF should not only endure the largest budget cut but also face the double whammy with USF Polytechnic's faculty and students when the school becomes independent.

And they were so hard-pressed to explain the $25 million they were essentially trying to blackmail out of USF that they just gave it back.

All in all, it was a fine lesson in Absurd Government 101 for USF students who drove to Tallahassee to plead for their school's financial survival.

One senator even complimented students on their neat appearance. Their school is facing at least $78 million in cuts, but I'm sure the drive was worth that tip on the advantages of a well-pressed pair of Dockers.

Meanwhile, this whole affair is starting to feel like a misdirection play.

You have to assume budget committee chairman JD Alexander was anticipating blowback when he decided to sneak in a bill that sped up Polytechnic's secession.

So, to divert attention from that fight, he turned in an outrageous funding plan that he knew would cause USF to mobilize all its forces in another direction.

Which probably means by the end of this showdown, USF officials will happily cut Polytechnic loose just to avoid insane funding cuts.

And Alexander will look like he was a compromise champion when, in reality, he will get what he wanted all along.

Now that's a lesson USF students should take to heart.

John Romano can be reached at