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Board of Governors Propose a ‘Skinny’ Budget for Next Year

Without much money expected to be available next year the governing board for Florida's public universities introduced a “skinny” budget Wednesday, but said the plan isn’t a final request.

The university system's budget of about $5.6 billion would increase by about $64,000 under the proposal the Board of Governors put forth. The budget, passed last year amidst economic turmoil that is ongoing, was largely propped up by stimulus dollars after university leaders warned that budget cuts could lead to massive layoffs at the 11 universities.

The budget proposal for 2010-2011 would keep things running as is and provide enough funding for the new medical schools to keep their doors open. But it does nothing to further improve the universities and it doesn't solve the problem of what to do when the stimulus money runs out.

The differential tuition bill, passed into law this past spring, allowed universities to raise tuition on top of the increase approved by the Legislature by up to 15 percent. Higher education leaders hailed the move as a step in the right direction in providing the institutions with a more stable funding stream and board officials have predicted it could bring in $208 million for the 2012 fiscal year.

But the system needs more, said Chancellor Frank Brogan, who began his tenure as chancellor a week ago after serving as president of Florida Atlantic University and Florida's lieutenant governor.

Brogan said he has begun speaking with the governor's office and legislators about ways to find a more permanent revenue stream for the system so it can continue to grow.

“Our approach legislatively has changed with the passage of the differential tuition bill that has now provided us with an additional revenue stream, but perhaps more importantly, a more predictable revenue stream,” he said.

One revenue stream the board is considering is a fee students pay for capital improvements in student life. The money typically goes to student-centered buildings like a student union, a health center or fitness facility. The $4.66 per credit hour fee hasn't been raised in 20 years, but the board needs legislative approval to do it.

The Facilities and Real Estate Committee of the Board of Governors decided to hold off until a December meeting to vote on whether that proposal should be included in the board's legislative agenda for the upcoming year after debate broke out on student fees.

Board member Norman Tripp said he worried the board did not see the total impact of fees on a student because fees that are subject to board approval are examined individually and not as a group. Therefore, the board votes without seeing what the increase brings the total cost to for a student.

“Every year, we're taxing our students more and more and more,” Tripp said.

John Barnes, the only student serving on the board, said he personally believes the fees increase is too much, but said the student body presidents across the system have voted to support it if they get the power with the university presidents to decide where the money goes.

The entire Board of Governors will vote whether to approve or reject the “skinny” budget request at their full board meeting Thursday. It will likely receive more information on Brogan's legislative strategies for more funding and the capital improvement fee at a December meeting.

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