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University Beat

USF Officials Find Positives In State Budget

Mark Schreiner
WUSF 89.7 News
The USF Board of Trustees meets in March 2017.

When Florida Gov. Rick Scott got out his veto pen for the 2017-18 state budget last week, about $9.5 million earmarked for University of South Florida projects - plus $4.3 million for a forensic research training facility USF anthropologists will play a part in -  went away.

But university officials were looking on the bright side after a Board of Trustees meeting Thursday.

Mark Walsh is USF's Assistant Vice President for Government Relations, meaning he handles the university's business in Tallahassee.

He pointed out that USF still received around $60 million worth of new funding in the budget. Walsh said about half of that money could be used to make up for some of the projects nixed by Scott.

"We never like to lose anything in the veto process if possible, but in most years you will," he said. "This year, overall, the net gain was significantly higher and I think we can largely manage a lot of those vetoes."

The other half will go to USF construction and maintenance efforts, including $12 million designated for the new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Health Institute in downtown Tampa.

"That's a huge success for us - the trustees and the president had prioritized that as the number one priority for the system going into session," Walsh said. "(Scott) has signed every appropriation they've made to that over the years and we're very excited about that."

The state has given about $91 million dollars to USF for the project, which will cost around $153 million. USF was seeking $33.3 million in the new fiscal year, but Walsh said that construction should still start this summer, with the school set to open on schedule in late 2019.

He added that this Legislative session was a little more uncertain that previous years because lawmakers required universities to designate every project they wanted funded as a separate line item. Previously, schools and lawmakers would try to get some projects through one large appropriation for a university.

"Many of the programs that were vetoed have been in the budget for many years," Walsh said. "Over the course of the last 10 years or so, a lot of those programs have not appeared in separate line items for the Governor to veto, and this was a decision by the 2017 Legislature to line item those programs out, even though they were existing, recurring-based funding items."

"A couple of the vetoes were things that the Legislature had funded at the USF System for the first time and those obviously don't have the same level of impact as existing programs," Walsh added. "We'll probably have to make some determinations about how to cover those issues and make some evaluations on maybe whether those are still priority issues for us since they've been vetoed."

In other business Thursday, the Board of Trustees approved a strategic plan for the USF System and 2017-18 work plans for the individual campuses, as well as a three-year contract agreement with USF Graduate Assistants United (GAU).

That's the labor union that represents the more than 2,200 graduate assistants who fill a variety of roles at USF, including teaching classes and conducting research.

Under the new deal, graduate assistants with a masters level will receive a minimum of $11,405 in the 2017-18 school year, $11,850 in 2018-19 and $12,500 in 2019-20.

Graduate assistants at the doctoral level will be paid a minimum of $14,500 in the 2017-18 school year, $16,080 in 2018-19 and $17,830 in 2019-20.

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