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Florida Polytechnic request for $25 million prompts calls of 'told you so'

6:26 PM, Feb 15, 2013   |    comments
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TAMPA BAY, Fla. - Following reports that the Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees will request a $25 million earmark for its new campus on Lakeland, at least one influential state legislator is vowing to fight the flow of funds.

State Rep. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) says the unusual appropriations request is a sign the yet-to-be-completed university will continue to burden state budgets for years.  Typically, university's trustees or administration petitions the state's Board of Governors (BOG) for funding allocations.

But Florida Poly hadn't made any requests to the BOG; it is planning on going straight to influential politicians like House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel (R-Lakeland), who has been a vocal supporter of Poly.  McKeel's sister has also been connected to the university and its booster club.

Florida Poly was created in April when Governor Rick Scott gave approval to a controversial and politically-charged plan.  Scott initially told 10 News the plan, pushed by former Republican Lake Wales Sen. JD Alexander, was a bad idea.  But Alexander, the Senate Budget Chair, got his way with the signing of SB 1944.

Last year, 10 News reported how numerous legislators were concerned about the potential cost of creating a 12th university when the state's 11 others were having funding problems.  But Alexander assured critics that there would be plenty of money for the school.

"This is a mess," Fasano told 10 News Friday.  "Because of one former senator and his pet project, the taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars for years to come.  It will be years before Poly meets the student numbers and be accredited.

"We have a chance to stop this in the upcoming session.  But it will be up to present leadership to stop this boondoggle of a 12th university nobody else wanted." 

The Florida Poly Board of Trustees have recently hired two employees and created a website, but still have a lot of work to do when it comes to preparing for students in future years.

Representatives from Florida Polytechnic were not available Friday to explain their $25 million request, but the amount represents almost a quarter of what the BOG requested from the legislature for the entire university system.

The BOG's legislative budget request included $118 million in new, general revenue, performance-based funding requests.  The BOG was also requesting $55 million in "essential" PECO funds for capital projects across the state and a restoration of $300 million in reserve funding that was "borrowed" by legislators last year.

For more on the controversial history of Polk County's first university, visit 10 News' interactive USF Poly/Florida Poly timeline. Don't forget to follow Florida Poly news on Facebook.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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