UF fares well in Scott's budget, Machen says


University of Florida President Bernie Machen, shown in this April 4, 2013 file photo, said Monday that he will not seek a tuition increase next year.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, May 20, 2013 at 4:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 20, 2013 at 4:02 p.m.

After years of budget cuts, the University of Florida now will have enough money to fix neglected buildings and give faculty and staff raises.

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University of Florida President Bernie Machen, shown in this April 4, 2013 file photo, said Monday that he will not seek a tuition increase next year.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

Gov. Rick Scott signed a $74.1 billion state budget Monday that restores $300 million in statewide higher education spending cuts and adds hundreds of millions of dollars in new education spending.

The governor's budget includes $615 million for UF, and excludes money from tuition.

For UF President Bernie Machen, the news came as vindication for tough budget decisions made in recent years.

"The reality is we got real, net new dollars coming into the university for the first time in five years," Machen said. "Because we have balanced our budget we are going to be able to spend that money on our people."

Machen earlier this year postponed his retirement to realize his goal of turning UF into a pre-eminent university after Scott asked him to stay on and stopped the new president selection process.

Machen said he was pleased with the way things worked out. "Everything that I was asking for was included and more," he said.

UF's budget for next year includes $15 million to hire faculty to become a top 10 university, and $15 million to create an online baccalaureate program. Machen said he was committed to matching the new state dollars with private donations.

The budget also restores $36 million taken away by the Legislature last year, $15 million for a new chemistry building and $24 million to fix critical deferred maintenance needs.

The university also will get $2 million for the Lastinger Center to teach algebra online, and $1.7 million to help restore historic buildings in St. Augustine.

The only request of UF that was vetoed was $500,000 to produce a documentary about St. Augustine.

Scott vetoed $368 million from the state's budget, including a 3 percent tuition rate increase that would have raised about $18.5 million statewide, and less than $3 million for UF.

"We never budgeted for tuition," Machen said. "We didn't count on it."

Before the beginning of the legislative session, university presidents vowed not to seek a tuition differential increase if last year's $300 million budget cut was restored and new money was invested in the system, said Kim Wilmath, communications director for the State University System.

She said the Board of Governors doesn't expect to see any requests for tuition increases since the Legislature kept up its end of the deal.

"By all accounts, this has been a remarkable Legislative session for the State University System," Chancellor Frank T. Brogan said.

"Nevertheless, we understand that the governor must make tough choices when evaluating the projects in the state budget, and we respect that."

During the economic downturn, the Legislature slashed education spending to make up for falling state revenues. UF's state funding was cut about $230 million during that time, Machen said in previous reports.

UF met the challenge of state spending cuts by doing some belt-tightening of its own, Machen said.

Last year's decision not to dip into the reserve funds angered faculty, who started a "Save UF, Spend the Reserves" campaign.

Machen said he is glad to have made those cuts, otherwise he'd be using the new money the university is getting this year to plug in holes in the budget.

"A little pain every year is better than kicking the bucket down the road," he said.

Machen and administrators next turn to the task of figuring out how to best spend those state dollars. He said he will present the university's budget at the board of trustees meeting June 6-7.

At that time Machen also will unveil his plan for raises, he said.

The state budget calls for across-the-board raises for state workers: $1,400 for those earning less than $40,000 a year and $1,000 for those earning more than $40,000 a year. The budget also has a one-time bonus pool of $600 per worker for 35 percent of state workers. Machen said he was not sure how the university would spend that money.

Machen said he wants to give merit raises out of the new money, but that is still being worked out.

The new budget would take effect July 1, but raises wouldn't go into effect until Oct. 1, per state law.

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