TALLAHASSEE, Florida -- After a long day of contentuous debate, a Senate committee has approved its initial budget for 2012-2013 that would strip USF of nearly 60 percent of its state funding.
However, a late deal brokered between two Tampa senators and Senate Budget Committee Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, could save USF in the long run.
Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said the safest thing for USF at this point was to cut ties with USF Polytechnic in Lakeland immediately. Their fear was other powerful senators would continue Alexander's pressure on USF while Polytechnic followed its current 3-to-5-year independence path.
The stipulation was Alexander would have to sit down with USF President Judy Genshaft next week to hammer out final details of the "divorce," as Norman called it. The two leaders hadn't met in months, but Alexander seemed open to the idea of giving in on the unbalanced cuts to USF.
Earlier in the day, Norman and Joyner -- in front of dozens of USF students from Tampa -- helped defeat a controversial amendment that would have held back an additional $25 million from USF next year. The money was proposed as collateral until the university handed over all the USF Polytechnic property.
The budget conforming bill containing the change (SPB 7100) would still create an independent Florida Polytechnic University immediately, one of Alexander's top priorities.
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After Alexander proposed a 58% cut to USF's state revenues last week -- a move seen by many as unfair and political -- 10 News asked for your thoughts on what it would mean to Tampa Bay. We drove hundreds of your letters to Tallahassee and held legislators accountable.
10 News was the first station to shine the spotlight on JD Alexander's "bullying" last fall and reported on his battle with USF President Judy Genshaft over leadership at USF-Polytechnic in Lakeland.
Tuesday, after returning from a day of lobbying at the Capitol, Genshaft told 10 News she felt like she had made progress in preventing Alexander from "crippling" the university. She said Alexander couldn't rationalize why USF would bear the biggest burden in the state and she urged the entire Tampa Bay region to speak up.
Students followed her lead, packing a pair of buses early Wednesday morning in Tampa to make it to the 9 a.m. start of the budget meeting in Tallahassee.
But while USF students and alumni in Tampa Bay are only numbered in the hundreds of thousands, the "devastating" cuts Alexander was pushing could affect millions. USF is Tampa Bay's third-largest employer, with approximately 16,000 employees servicing the university, hospitals, and nearly 50,000 students.
University spokesperson Lara Wade-Martinez says the restoration of the $25 million from the USF Polytechnic transfer is only a step in the right direction. She says the proposed Senate cuts are still devastating to the school and will create immediate cuts to programs.
According to Wade-Martinez, the school could be in a negative cash position of $52 million on July 1, even if it wipes out all cash and mandated reserves. That means USF will have to begin layoffs in April.
10 News has been in contact with local business and regional leaders, who held a conference call early Wednesday morning with Genshaft and Tampa Bay Partnership President & CEO Stuart Rogel. Prominant Tampa Bay businessmen and women promised to contact state senators on the Budget Committee and continue to lobby through the end of the session.
While a vote on the budget could come from the Senate next week, the House and Governor would still need to sign off on it. The process will likely extend until March.
Previous USF Coverage:
2/14/12- USF Students depart overnight to protest budget cuts
2/14/12 - 10 News leading charge to #SaveUSF
2/14/12 - High school students impacted by USF attacks
2/14/12 - USF fears "devastating" 58% budget cuts
2/8/12 - JD Alexander pushes "backdoor" path for USF Poly independence
12/22/11 - Barbs traded over Genshaft's handling of USF Poly handling
12/20/11 - Genshaft dismisses USF Poly chancellor
11/10/11 - BOG grants USF Poly conditional independence
11/7/11 - USF Poly spends thousands on Star Wars statues
11/3/11 - JD Alexander's bully pulpit
10/31/11 - Polk leaders vote for USF Poly independence