The contentious battle over funding for the University of South Florida continued yesterday, with state lawmakers killing a plan that would have held back $25 million from the school next year. Some legislators, however, are still concerned that the school could face a cut of nearly 44 percent — a significantly higher number than any other state university.

Senate budget chairman J.D. Alexander has made it his priority to turn USF’s Lakeland campus into the state’s 12th public university, and some lawmakers worry that USF funding is being used as a kind of collateral, until the university hands over all of the USF Polytechnic property.

Overall, the state Senate’s proposed budget calls for a $400 million total cut to the state’s university system, more than $100 million of which would come directly from USF. Other state universities will face cuts ranging from 12 to 34 percent. FSU, for example, is facing a cut of about $55 million. By comparison, the Senate proposal sees a $79 million reduction in USF funds, plus another $25 million held in contingency pending the school’s cooperation in transferring USF Poly’s assets to the new university.

As pointed out by The Tampa Bay Times, the school would also see another $18 million in costs of absorbing USF Poly’s faculty and staff and an additional $6 million in losses for its pharmacy program, which is funded through USF Poly’s budget.

Following a heated day-long debate during yesterday’s meeting of the Senate Budget Committee, lawmakers agreed to remove a provision that would have taken an additional $25 million from the school for costs related to the creation of its new university, in Polk County. But even with the panel agreeing to reduce USF cuts, the school still stands to lose $103 million.

In a statement released yeterday, Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said the cuts would prove devastating for the school and urged her fellow lawmakers to oppose them. “In my view, Sen. J.D. Alexander, the Senate budget chairman, has clearly targeted USF,” Cruz said. “It is disappointing that some of his colleagues in the Senate approved his vindictive budget proposal.”

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a vocal critic of the USF budget proposal, says he too remains worried about the school’s funding.

“While Sen. Fasano appreciates the fact that the $25 million hold back regarding Polytech has been released he is still very concerned that USF still will face a cut of nearly 44 percent, which is still significantly higher than any other university in the state system,” says Greg Giordano, Fasano’s chief legislative aide. “He calls upon the budget chairman to treat the University of South Florida with the fairness that it deserves.”

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