Few institutions have as big an impact on the Tampa Bay area as the University of South Florida and its $1.5 billion operating budget. The school employs roughly 13,000 people, enrolls 47,000 students and has an economic impact on the area of $3.7 billion.
Those are just some of the many reasons to be excited by the Legislature’s desire to restore the higher education funding cut from the state budget last year. When the dust had finally settled after those cuts, USF was left with $50 million less in its budget.
Though nothing is certain until the final budget is signed, both the House and Senate are moving proposals through their chambers that are beneficial to USF in the coming budget year.
In the House’s budget plan, $12.4 million is included for completion of the Interdisciplinary Sciences building on the Tampa campus and $16 million for construction of the Heart Health Institute.
In the Senate plan, $1 million is being proposed for a planned $25 million building to house the USF St. Petersburg’s College of Business. The $1 million would get construction started on a site across Third Street South from the main campus in downtown St. Petersburg.
The negotiations are in stark contrast to the vitriol that marked last year’s budget negotiations, when outgoing Senate budget chairman JD Alexander attempted to exact his revenge on USF for resisting his plans to create the state’s 12th university outside Lakeland.
In perhaps the best living argument for term limits, Alexander can no longer haunt USF, at least not from his seat of power in the Senate.
It is too bad his legacy, Florida Polytechnic, will continue to haunt taxpayers, and unnecessarily drain limited higher education dollars.
Most lawmakers understand that any talk of developing a first-rate workforce that can attract first-rate corporations begins with the need to nurture the university system. Last year, higher education helped the state deal with a substantial budget shortfall by shouldering $300 million in cuts and dipping into reserves.
At the time, USF President Judy Genshaft said she hoped it would be a one-time occurrence. That appears to be the case. And that is good news for USF, the Tampa Bay community, and the state’s economy.