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News Clips 01/17/2013
BLOG: Squeezed universities want more flexibility to build things
Source: Orlando Sentinel, 01/17/13
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By Aaron Deslatte
Florida’s cash-challenged university system is making a push this year to deregulate its construction requirements, allow it to partner with more private companies, and tap more tax dollars to beef up campus construction.
Universities have been hamstrung by a decline in Florida’s gross reciepts tax in recent years that is used to pay for education construction bonds, a state program known as Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO). PECO trust fund appropriations have fallen from a high of about $1.4 billion in 2007 to nearly zero now, as the communications and energy tax sources have declined.
Without PECO, universities are having major problems financing new construction and refurbishing older buildings, University of West Florida President Judy Bense told the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
‘While this is certainly not the sexiest issue, it is an important one,” said House budget chief Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland. ”We wouldn’t let out homes fall apart.”
The Florida Board of Governors is asking for greater flexibility in its building requirements, more direct tax revenues, and to delay some statutorily required maintenance projects.
“There are many ways to skin this cat,” Bense told lawmakers. “We’re not asking for open checkbook like some universities have.”
Another request is to allow universities partner with private developers to build academic buildings, not just parking lots and dorms. That would require a change to state law, but a report to the committee from its Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability Thursday said other states like California and Ohio had done so.
“I would like to build a building on my campus that has retail on the bottom, office and academic space in the middle and housing on the top. Right now I can do two out of the three,” Bense said.
“This is the kind of new world we can live in.”