How to complete budget talks? Just add porkby John Kennedy | March 5th, 2012
A final state budget deal Monday cut $24.8 million from Florida Atlantic University as House and Senate negotiators capped days of talks with last-minute additions that tucked dozens of hometown projects into a $70 billion spending plan.
The agreement sets the stage for budgets to be placed on the desks of lawmakers today. A constitutionally required 72-hour waiting period means final votes are likely Friday, the two-month session’s last scheduled day.
FAU’s reduction trims about 10 percent of the school’s budget and is part of a $300 million cut leveled across Florida’s 11 public universities.
Officials said FAU can use $16 million in reserves to help ease the lost dollars. Still, it marks the fifth straight year of declining state aid for universities – a trend that has heightened the push for tuition increases.
The higher education cuts come even as the budget deal anticipates a 12th state university – with the Legislature approving separating the University of South Florida from its polytechnic campus in Lakeland.
Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, spearheaded the break with USF, as the term-limited lawmaker will leave office in November with a new school created in his home Polk County.
But Alexander wasn’t the only leading lawmaker to land a favored project Monday as millions of dollars was steered to community centers, social service programs, local road projects and even $5 million for a Sarasota rowing center, already vetoed once by Gov. Rick Scott.
Alexander’s House counterpart, Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, steered $520,203 to an international baccalaureate program at her hometown high school.
When asked about what critics call political pork, Alexander said lawmakers had a right to fight for hometown spending.
“It’s a fair amount, all and all,” Alexander said of the projects. “We haven’t done a lot of that in a number of years…but at the end of the day, each of us is elected to represent our districts and their unique needs.”
Scott, though, last year vetoed a record $615 million in spending by lawmakers. Mindful of that, Alexander added a caution to the items lawmakers managed to include Monday.
“Of course, most all that will be subject to discussion with the governor,” he added.