Machen questions UCF practices

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 10:45 p.m.
The University of Central Florida is playing a dangerous game by paying off debts with state money that should be reserved for teaching efforts, University of Florida President Bernie Machen said Wednesday.
During a meeting of the State University Presidents' Association on UF's campus, UCF President John Hitt said he has tapped into the Education and General Budget Entity to cover bonds and loans. The comment drew a look of consternation from Machen, who said the funds aren't intended for such use.
"It's a concern to me if that is going to be practiced by our universities," said Machen, seated at a table with the state's 10 other university presidents.
So-called ENG funding is the largest source of state revenue for universities. At UF, about $650 million a year comes from the fund. Machen said he was concerned that using the funds to cover debts would create the impression that universities have education funding to spare on bonds and loans.
"The question will be, maybe you got too much," Machen said after the meeting.
Hitt defended his use of the funds after the meeting, saying it had been approved by the Board of Regents, a now-dissolved statewide body that used to govern the university system.
"Some people say it's prohibited, but others don't agree," Hitt said.
UCF takes in more than $200 million each year in Education and General Budget Entity money, Hitt said. Of that money, he says he's uses about 1 percent, or $2 million, for bonds and loans.
"We have been able to do that for some limited amounts," he said.
Even the small amounts were of concern to Machen.
"We all know we need more ENG," he said. "Let's keep it clean."
The issue of bonds and loans will be taken up today by the State Board of Governors, which will meet in Gainesville. The board will consider a proposal that would require board approval before any state university borrows money.
As of now, the universities go to the Legislature for bonding permission. Even if the board approves the measure, universities may still have to go through the Legislature as well before money can be borrowed, said Mark Rosenberg, chancellor of the State University System.
"That's up to the Legislature," Rosenberg said. "And we say that respectfully."
Though Wednesday's meeting had its moments of tension, Rosenberg praised this year's successful efforts to lure $90 million in federal funding to the state system. UF's share of that money amounts to $15.7 million, which is about half of what UF pulled in last year. The decline in funding is attributed to the removal of earmarked funds from Congressional legislation called the Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations Bill.
UF had requested about $10 million in appropriations through the federal bill, but wound up with none after earmarks were removed. UF's largest budget request in the bill was $5 million for Shands Jacksonville, which would go toward the development of a new Proton Beam laboratory. The beam is used for highly concentrated radiation therapy.
UF officials didn't expect to get all $10 million, but getting none of it puts off several projects.
"It was not as good a year as last year," Machen said.
Projects that will get funding include $2 million for the training of Army Special Operations Combat Medics at Shands. Last year, the military doubled the number of medics being trained at Shands Jacksonville to 200.
Jack Stripling can be reached at 374-5064 or

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