Budget report: Florida funds lower-priority college projects over high-need ones

by | May 15, 2024

Florida TaxWatch’s 2024 Budget Turkey Watch Report criticizes the state Legislature for allocating funds to lower-priority or non-recommended university and college construction projects, deviating from established prioritization processes and leaving many high-priority projects underfunded.

Florida TaxWatch’s 2024 Budget Turkey Watch Report raises concerns pertaining to the state’s approach to university and college construction funding, contending that deviations from established prioritization processes lead to the funding of lower-priority or non-recommended initiatives.

The report indicates that despite the precedented Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) process, managed by the Board of Governors (BOG) and the Division of Colleges (DC) to fund projects based on urgency and importance, the Legislature often bypassed these guidelines. This year, the report found that substantial funds were allocated to projects not on the approved priority list, while many high-priority projects remained underfunded or ignored.

Five years ago, the Legislature strengthened the university process, creating a point system to prioritize the projects with the focus on finishing projects that are already in the pipeline before adding new ones with significant future year funding needs,” the report states. “Even with this law, the Legislature does not follow the recommended lists and funds projects that are not recommended or that are a lower priority. This year, the divergence from the approved list is especially pronounced.”

In the FY2024-25 budget, which still remains to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Legislature approved $429.9 million in PECO funds, surpassing the BOG’s initial expectations. Additionally, $186.2 million was allocated from general revenue for university construction projects. However, only four out of the ten projects recommended for FY2024-25 received appropriations, and only nine out of eighteen projects on the three-year priority list were funded. Instead, the budget included ten member projects totaling $162.9 million that were not on the approved priority list.

The pattern of funding lower-priority or unlisted projects extends beyond universities, the report further asserts. While eight of the seventeen requested projects for the next three years were funded within DC, twelve projects from the lower end of the ranked list received allocations and five member projects worth $14.9 million that were not part of the priority list were funded.

Examples include the multi-purpose classroom and community emergency shelter space at Gulf Coast State College, which received $5,897,637 despite not being a high-priority project, and Santa Fe College’s property acquisition, funded at $6,500,000, which also bypassed the prioritization process.

The Legislature provided much more in PECO funds ($429.9 million) than was expected by the BOG when the priority lists were developed and added another $186.2 million in general revenue for university construction projects,” the report claims. “This year, even with this extra revenue available, only four of the 10 projects recommended for funding in FY2024-25 were funded and only nine of the 18 on the three-year list received an appropriation. Instead, the budget funds 10 member projects ($162.9 million) that were not on the priority list at all.”

Incomplete funding of critical projects further complicates the issue. Construction typically does not commence until all necessary funds are appropriated. This year, only eight out of thirty-five projects received sufficient funding to start construction, delaying numerous important infrastructure developments.

A Statement from Florida TaxWatch: The annual Budget Turkey Watch Report is based on the principle that, because funds appropriated by the legislature belong to Florida taxpayers, the process must be transparent and accountable, and every project should receive proper deliberation and public debate. This year’s review has identified 450 appropriations projects worth $854.6 million that qualify as Budget Turkeys. To be clear, the Budget Turkey label does not signify judgement of a project’s merit, value, or need. 


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