UF fares well in proposed state budget


An aerial view of parts of the University of Florida campus in Gainesville from the ShandsCair Flight Program helicopter on Dec. 8, 2011.

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Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 5:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 5:36 p.m.

For the second year in a row, it looks as though the State University System is poised to get an increase in funding after sustaining five years of budget cuts — and the University of Florida is slated to get a large share of that new money.

While all the details haven't been finalized and the budget has not been approved, the recommendations agreed on by both the Senate and House look good for higher education and for UF in particular.

The $77.1 billion state budget was filed late Tuesday, beginning a 72-hour cooling-off period before it can be brought to a final vote on Friday so the Legislature can adjourn on time.

"Higher education is one of the biggest winners in this year's budget," said Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The Board of Governors released a statement commending the Legislature for "recognizing the importance of higher education while balancing that priority with other needs of the state."

The board thanked the Legislature for its support of performance funding and the Legislature's recommendations on capital projects vetted by the board.

"Overall, the Legislature's proposed budget recognizes the role of our universities in boosting the state workforce, advancing Florida's economy and providing an excellent return on investment for families and taxpayers," the board stated.

The budget deal negotiated between the Senate and House has $200 million in performance-based funding to be dispersed among the state's 12 universities based on criteria set by the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees and sets policy for the university system.

That's twice the amount originally proposed and more than four times as much performance money that was in the 2013 budget.

"As part of the performance funding model we created, the University of Florida is eligible for additional funds if it meets standards for research, job placement, cost per degree, graduation and retention," McKeel said.

UF estimated it could receive as much as $25.9 million of those new funds.

UF also is poised to get more than $30 million for new construction projects and receive millions more for critical maintenance and operating costs, McKeel said. "UF is primed to continue its pursuit of becoming one of our nation's top world class research institutions," he said.

President Bernie Machen had told alumni and Gator supporters that his highest priority is to get funding for raises for faculty and staff "to help ensure that we pay salaries that are more competitive with our peer universities nationally."

Having competitive salaries is key to attracting top-level faculty to help UF's rise to top-10 status, he said.

That effort could be aided by an additional $5 million both UF and Florida State University are poised to get out of this year's budget, on top of the $15 million they already receive as the state's two pre-eminent universities, a designation bestowed upon them both last year.

That gives both universities $20 million a year each to spend on pursuing national pre-eminence. UF has committed that money to hiring new faculty in targeted academic and research areas.

The budget also gives UF $30 million in new construction money and at least $16.5 million for maintenance, officials said.

Construction money includes $20 million for a new chemistry building, UF officials said. With the $15 million it received last year and $7 million before that, UF has $42 million toward its needed $60 million to replace the outdated, cramped, chemistry building built in 1947 with one that can meet the growing demand for class and lab space.

The budget has $10 million to renovate historic Newell Hall as a study space for students — money the Legislature did not grant UF last year.

Another $13.5 million is proposed for facilities maintenance and repairs, with $3 million to $4 million for critical maintenance that has been deferred for years. Last year, UF got $16.7 million for deferred maintenance projects.

The UF Health Cancer Center is poised to get $16 million to $18 million for an initiative supported by Gov. Rick Scott to obtain National Cancer Institute designation, which would give UF additional state and federal funding and access to more clinical trials, UF officials said.

The budget also has $3 million for restoring UF's historic properties in St. Augustine, $2.5 million for the College of Education's Lastinger Center Algebra Nation, $2 million for IFAS research and extension activities, $2 million for the Southwest Florida Immokalee Research Center, and $1.25 million for UF Health's Center for Neurodegenerative Disease.

All of these are line items subject to the governor's veto or approval.

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