THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Nov. 16, 2010 --
When universities construct new buildings, they often have to build new roads to go with them, but as universities move forward, the state money pot that typically funds these roads is bone dry.
“It’s something about the times that make it more of an issue,” said Board of Governors Chair Ava Parker. “I think everyone is paying attention to every dollar right now.”
The Florida Board of Governors, which operates the 11-member state university system, has made replenishing the University Concurrency Trust Fund a major part of its 2011 legislative agenda. As universities approve long range work plans, they will have to figure out how to pay for the roads surrounding the universities.
“Currently there is no money in the trust fund,” board member Norman Tripp said that the governors’ November meeting.
In 1993, the Legislature created the trust fund, putting money from a local option fuel tax into an account specifically designated for universities trying to meet transportation concurrency requirements. But as the years went on and the state’s economic outlook turned bleak, lawmakers opted to use the money for other purposes.
In 2006, the Legislature eliminated the service charge on the local tax option that was filling the trust fund. Then in 2008, lawmakers swept $30 million from the account to pay for other budget items before sweeping the remainder of the balance in 2010 to pay for infrastructure improvements.
For the most part, the lack of money has not been tripping up universities, at least not yet.
The University of Central Florida is currently negotiating transportation concurrency requirements with Orange County, said Dan Holsenbeck, the university’s lobbyist and vice president for university relations. The university, which has expanded rapidly over the past several years, has 60 to 80 building projects that have already been approved or are in the university’s long-range plan. These include everything from classroom buildings to athletic facilities to residence halls.
Because the discussions with Orange County have just begun, it is too early to estimate how much it will cost for the university to meet the transportation concurrency requirements associated with the university’s building plan. But the lack of money in the trust fund could definitely affect UCF, Holsenbeck said.
“We’re in the process of negotiating and talking with Orange County about different options because nobody in Orange County wants to stop UCF from growing,” he said.
The likelihood of the fund being immediately re-established may be slim. The state is facing a $2.5 billion budget shortfall and the new legislative leaders and Governor-elect Rick Scott have pledged there will be no new taxes.
House Speaker Dean Cannon has not yet appointed a budget subcommittee chair for higher education; Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, who chaired the Senate committee for the past two years, will return as the chair of that committee.