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News Clips 02/26/2013
STAFF COLUMN: Can Florida Polytechnic boondoggle be stopped?
Source: Tampa Tribune, 02/26/13
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By Joe Henderson
State Rep. Mike Fasano makes no secret of his outrage at the ivy-covered monument to pork in Polk County known as Florida Polytechnic, but he wants to do more than vent. He wants to end Poly's short-lived independence and return control to the University of South Florida.
"It is absolutely a boondoggle," said Fasano, a Republican from New Port Richey. "My hope is that present leadership will realize they have to put a stop to this. It's not too late. You can put the brakes on this thing. Everything and anything can be turned around."
We saw proof of that Monday when the trustee board of folly-tech backed off a plan to ask for a cool $25 million in taxpayer money to get the school up and running – money that was never in the state's budget for Poly.
"It sounds like someone from Tallahassee must have sent them a message," Fasano said.
He would like to send another.
The deadline for introducing bills for the upcoming legislative session has passed, but Fasano said taxpayers have an escape hatch. Lawmakers could pass a conforming bill, a legislative parlor trick that amends state law so they can spend money how they want. So, if Poly's funding dries up (hint, hint), a conforming bill could put it back under USF's wing.
Since Poly started down the road to independence through a conforming bill, it would be sauce for the gander. It may be a long shot, but it could be worth taking.
"I would support it," Fasano said. "You would need to get both bodies (the House and Senate) behind it. It can happen."
Florida Poly was headed toward a fiscal train wreck from the moment it was hatched from the mind of former state Sen. JD Alexander. The idea of turning a satellite campus from USF into an independent body without enormous cost was folly, and now we have proof.
Fasano, who was in the Senate when Poly was created last year, tried to get answers from Alexander about the potential long-term drain a new university would put on the higher-education budget.
Good ol' JD parsed his words carefully to those questions, but Fasano was left with the impression Alexander was promising an independent Poly wouldn't cost taxpayers more than just continuing as USF-Poly.
"That was an absolute lie," Fasano said.
Alexander had the political muscle to get it done, though. As chairman of the budget committee, legislators had to kiss his, uh, ring to get their projects funded. So even though he was in his final year as a senator, he had enough power to push through a project many recognized as a disaster-in-waiting.
JD is gone from the body politick now, but his mutant creation remains. The Board of Governors, which runs the state university system, wants answers and has requested the honor of Poly's presence at a meeting next month.
It is playing out exactly how opponents said it would. If it weren't such a serious issue, this would almost be funny. These are exactly the problems forecast a year ago.
"We knew it then," Fasano said. "Our colleagues knew it. Gov. Scott knew it when he signed this into law, and this is just the beginning."