Area outlines priorities


Published: Sunday, March 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 11:58 p.m.

As the clock ticks down to the start of the legislative session, money and financial uncertainty appear to be the overwhelming issues facing schools and government in Alachua County.

After seeing its current budget slashed by $64 million, the University of Florida is nervously watching to see whether more cuts are in its future. Gov. Charlie Crist's budget proposal uses stimulus money and proposed tuition increases to stave off cuts, but lawmakers are already raising questions about the plan.

The School Board has had more than $17 million in state funding cut since the start of the 2007-08 school year, moved an additional $3.25 million from facilities to operations at the state's direction and, in a worst-case scenario, may face $27 million more in cuts next school year.

Santa Fe College has staved off a wave of layoffs so far, but college officials are uncertain what effect future budget cuts will have.

Here's a rundown on the priorities this legislative session for the various institutions in and around Gainesville:

University of Florida: UF's main legislative priorities are related to its budget. They include:

Bills that would allow UF and other universities to raise tuition 15 percent annually until it reaches the national average. UF's current annual tuition of about $3,800 a year ranks 49th out of 50 flagship universities in the U.S.

Money for new construction. UF is seeking money from a tax on utilities to fund projects including the building of chemistry and biomedical research facilities and the renovation of Norman Hall and other campus structures.

College of Medicine funding. The college's state support has dropped by more than half in the last five years; at the same time the size of the medical student class has increased.

State matches for private donations. UF seeks money from two programs that match gifts from donors, one that pays for building projects and another that funds endowed professorships and scholarships.

Alachua County School Board: The board's list of legislative priorities include:

A request that the Legislature reverse the trend of shifting the burden for public schools funding from the state to local level.

A constitutional amendment or statutory change to keep the class-size requirement measured at the school-by-school level instead of classroom-by-classroom.

An increase in per-pupil funding.

Complete flexibility in the use of state funds.

Santa Fe College: Santa Fe's list of priorities include:

Legislation allowing the school to establish a transportation fee. The student fee would fund an increase in Gainesville Regional Transit System bus service at the school's downtown and northwest Gainesville campuses.

Alachua County: Alachua County's list of priorities include:

Fighting legislation that will further limit the amount of property tax revenue that counties can collect.

Fighting unfunded mandates programs created by the Legislature with the costs passed on to the counties. "We hope they quit the pretense of tax reform when they are simply trying to cut property taxes," County Manager Randall Reid said. "If they want true tax reform, they ought to look at the needs of the community and the state, and what kind of revenues are necessary to meet those needs."

City of Gainesville: The city's list of priorities include:

Passage of the community college transit fee also sought by Santa Fe College.

Fighting any legislation that could lead to more tax limits. "We are hopeful they will not further erode local government's ability to sustain itself," Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan said.

Staff writers Nathan Crabbe, Christopher Curry and Cindy Swirko contributed to this report.

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