School officials believe DeSantis will fund the USF • St Pete Catalyst science center

Although surprised by Governor Ron DeSantis’ veto on funding a new oceanographic science center on the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus, many local stakeholders expressed their belief that state support was a year away.

Speaking at the first meeting of the USF board of trustees since DeSantis cut $ 75 million for a new oceanographic science center on the St. Petersburg campus from the state budget, President Will Weatherford said following a recent meeting with the governor echoed remarks from city affairs leaders and Senator Jeff Brandes in the aftermath of the June 2 veto.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Weatherford, a former president of Florida House, said the governor supported the transformation project, but not the asking price.

“When you have your best legislative session ever, and you have hundreds of millions of dollars given to you, and the governor ends up vetoing projects worth $ 3 billion in the budget, we would have lost something,” he said. said Weatherford.

“I think we were all disappointed that it was the EOS (Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences Research and Teaching Facility) building – but frankly, I had a very strong conversation with him and his staff and I want everyone to know that I am not there. philosophical challenges or problems with the building “.

An 80 million dollar rendering of EOS. Both Trustee Chair Will Weatherford and Senator Jeff Brandes believe the $ 75 million budget demand was too high this year.

Weatherford believes the problem was with the amount of money required immediately for a single facility.

In November 2021, USF President Rhea Law told the St. Petersburg city council that she asked the state legislature for $ 30 million this year and $ 30 million in 2023 to begin construction of the EOS. The university expects the facility to cost just over $ 80 million, with the Florida Board of Governors recommending the USF to contribute $ 20 million.

During the March legislative session, House and Senate lawmakers, led by Palm Harbor resident, former USF member and Republican House Speaker Chris Sprowls, increased the funding allocated for the project from $ 60 million to $ 75. millions.

“The governor and his team have assured me that if he shows up again next year, they will be supportive,” Weatherford said.

In an interview on June 6 with the CatalystBrandes, who took part in the session, said that the increase in the legislative budget request is too far a bridge. He believes the governor and his staff thought the $ 75 million could be better used this year, but ultimately the school will receive significant funding for the center next year, “when they come back and sharpen the pencil on what the true cost, ”Brandes said. “But it won’t be $ 75 million.”

Brandes believes that if supporters of the facility had split the funding over two years, he would have survived the governor’s veto. However, when a leader tries to cut $ 3 billion from a budget, “you will start with the big plans first.”

“Get a machete for big projects – and that’s what he did,” Brandes said. “Especially when you believe that projects are concentrated in the leadership areas”.

EOS, Brandes said, was seen as a Sprowls project. He noted that the governor also vetoed some of Senate President Wilton Simpson’s big initiatives due to cost and lack of inclusiveness with other areas of Florida.

“You could wipe out 100 other member’s projects and not go to $ 50 million,” Brandes said. “I think it was a failure of the House and Senate to negotiate with the governor’s office on that matter and have a good understanding of where they wanted to land.”

At the meeting on Wednesday, Law told attendees that the St. Petersburg campus received $ 3 million in operational support, $ 6.5 million for deferred maintenance – “which is well needed” – and $ 5.5. millions of dollars in state funding for the Florida Flood Hub for Research and Innovation.

The law also assured trustees that EOS is still at the top of the USF’s list of capital improvements. He said the university’s management would spend the year planning the facility and ascertaining its schedule before returning to the legislature.

Law stressed the importance of EOS for the university and the city of St. Petersburg and thanked the community for joining in support of the transformation project. She also credited business leaders who sent letters expressing the benefits of the structure to state leadership.

“Most of all, thank you for what they will do,” added Law. “Because we are going back, and we are coming back strong. Right?”

“Yes,” Weatherford replied firmly and succinctly.

“Take the good with the bad,” he said, referring to more than $ 244 million in new funding allocated to the university. “But this year has been a lot more good than bad.”

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