Legislator hints at more school construction funds

Published: Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 4:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 4:49 p.m.

A prominent state legislator raised the idea of budgeting more money for school construction and overall higher education at a committee meeting of the University of Florida's Board of Trustees on Thursday.

Rep. Seth McKeel, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, addressed the board's Committee on External Relations, asserting his commitment to seek more state money for higher education and the Public Education Capital Outlay, the fund the pays for construction projects across the education system.

He noted that increased funding could depend upon two key situations in Tallahassee.

One is the pending lawsuit brought against the state by the statewide teachers union over the requirement for state employees to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to their retirement plans.

McKeel said should the Florida Supreme Court ruling go in favor of the union, the Legislature would be forced to pay back about $1.5 billion.

He cited the upcoming so-called fiscal cliff as another possible factor that could impact federal money that is part of the state budget.

"If you have that one-two punch with the Supreme Court and the fiscal cliff, then all bets are off," he said.

Trustee Marshall Criser III said it will be important to provide the Legislature with information that will illustrate the need for higher education funding.

"I think we have to define the importance of higher education," he said.

McKeel also emphasized his support for setting criteria that would allow state universities to achieve flagship status.

Both houses of the Legislature passed the "preeminence" bill during the last session, which would have initially allowed UF and Florida State University to charge market rate tuition. Gov. Rick Scott, who took a stance against tuition increases, vetoed the bill.

McKeel told UF trustees that the university would have to figure out how to balance being a "team player" with the other 11 universities while still have the needs of a preeminent, flagship university.

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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