Sarasota, Florida - During a visit to Sarasota's Ringling College of Art and Design, Florida Governor Rick Scott says Ringling is an example of a school putting students to work.
"We want to make sure your tax dollars are spent helping people get jobs. Part of that is getting the right education."
Yet state leaders propose cutting $400 million from state universities, with $103 million coming from USF alone. University officials say the cuts would impact all four campuses, including Sarasota's.
Paul Cajka, third year student at USF Sarasota says, "There's a budgetary shortfall that has to be done. The cuts should be equitable."
Governor Scott says, "I support public education. I am going to do everything I can to support education. I am going to do everything I can to make sure the dollars are allocated fairly."
What "fairly" means is up to interpretation.
State Senator Mike Bennett says it's fair to tap into the university system's $1 billion in reserves to help balance the budget. Bennett says the alternative is higher taxes.
"We believe the universities are sitting on one billion dollars in cash and that cash is not being used. We are being forced in a position to take money away from Medicaid, taking money away from younger children. Why don't you (universities) use your savings accounts? They're complaining they have to use some of their savings. The state of Florida didn't feel like we had to take your savings since someone else is saving and it's their project," says Bennett.
While the governor remained noncommittal on the issue, after hearing Bennett's response to 10 News, the Governor walked behind Bennett, patted him on the back, shook his hand and said, "Good job!"
"Thank you," Bennett replies.
Bennett says state leaders have told the universities the money may return.
"We will do everything we can to put that money back next year. I don't how we can raise the taxes on Joe the carpenter when they have the money sitting in the bank. That's all we are asking them to do. I don't think it's an unfair process."
State Senator JD Alexander proposed the cuts and some critics have said it's an abuse of power, a vendetta against USF over the Polytechnic school.
"I think Senator Alexander cares about the state like all of us who are elected. It's always tough. It's a tough budget year," says Governor Scott.
Bennett says, "I have nothing negative to say about JD Alexander. He has an unbelievably brutal job."
In the end, the Governor has the final word on USF's funding. 10 News asked Governor Scott that if the Senate and House approves $103 million in cuts for USF, would he sign off on it.
Governor Scott's response: "I will go through and make sure it's fair."