THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Feb. 9, 2011 --
Gov. Rick Scott apparently doesn’t share the top priority of the state university system, with his proposed budget putting no money toward an initiative championed by university leaders and the business community designed to pump up higher education and, in turn, the Florida economy.
The Florida Board of Governors rolled out its New Florida initiative more than a year ago, calling for a doubling in university funding over five years to enhance degree production and produce high tech jobs. By 2015, the university system wants to boost degree production by 25,000 and bring in an additional $500 million annually in research funding. It also hopes to increase annual patent awards by 100 annually, boost annual new business start-ups by 10 and heighten annual licensing revenue by $20 million.
The board last year asked the state for $100 million for the current year’s budget, but received $10 million. For the coming fiscal year, the board asked for $150 million, and Scott has proposed zero dollars.
A spokeswoman for the board said that Chancellor Frank Brogan, who served on Scott’s transition team, and board Chairwoman Ava Parker were traveling all day and could not be reached by the phone.
“They would tell you we are pleased with the Governor's overall recommendations and look forward to our dialogue with Legislature on this miles-long journey of a thousand steps,” said BOG spokeswoman Kelly Layman.
Lawmakers this week have expressed concern with Scott’s proposal to whack the education budget as a whole by $3.3 billion. Legislators in both parties said the governor’s proposal goes too far in cuts to both the K-12 public school system and higher education.
“How do you reduce education when you’re trying to get a highly qualified workforce? That is a real concern to me,” said state Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, who chairs the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations.
Scott’s overall budget proposal for public universities and state colleges calls for a cut of more than $340, largely because the state has run out of federal stimulus dollars that have propped up the state’s spending for the last two fiscal years.
State colleges and vocational programs would receive $996.6 million, a $123.4 million decrease. Public university education and research would receive $2.07 billion, a $217 million decrease. Those figures do not include student tuition, which Scott keeps flat, though the universities could still opt to raise it.
During his campaign for governor last year, Scott emphasized education as a key part of his platform to grow jobs in Florida. His campaign website says, “Nurturing new cutting edge technology clusters is part of Rick Scott’s 7-7-7 Plan to get Floridians back to work and institutions of higher education play a vital role.” As part of that platform, he promised to invest in university research and “business incubators,” and leverage university research to invest and create in emerging technologies.
A Scott spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jerry McDaniel, director of the governor’s Office of Policy and Budget, briefed the Senate Budget Committee on the entire budget on Wednesday and will appear before the House Appropriations Committee Thursday. Other aides have been appearing before subcommittees to provide information on specific areas of the budget. The reception from lawmakers has been generally lukewarm.
Lynn stopped short of saying her committee would likely knock down all of the governor’s recommendations for the higher education system, but that she still did not understand some of his suggestions for the system from kindergarten through college as a whole.
“I think in K-20, we’re going to really have to look at the whole thing,” she said.