Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Alexander the (Less Than) Great

It has been a bad week for Florida state Sen. JD Alexander. That translate into a good week for Floridians.

Alexander is the Robert Byrd of the Florida Senate. Byrd was the king of pork spending. Byrd even tried to move the CIA to his home state of West Virginia. Byrd was able to use his position as chairman of the Appropriations Committee to pass his personal pet projects.

Like Byrd, Alexander attempted to take the Tampa-based USF's College of Pharmacy to Lakeland. It is no coincidence that Alexander's district covers Polk County. Alexander failed to be able to move the College of Pharmacy. Alexander used his position as chair of the Senate Budget Committee to strip all funding from the USF College of Pharmacy.

In November of last year, Alexander then made a move for the USF Lakeland-based USF Polytechnic. Alexander wanted USF Polytechnic to be independent from USF. Alexander didn't care that Polytechnic had no campus or would not have accreditation.

The bill doesn't address accreditation, but state Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who supports the move, has said the new institution could get quick provisional accreditation.

A top accrediting official said there's no such thing.

"The lawmaker can make the campus independent, but it will not be accredited," said Belle Whellan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges Commission on Colleges.

"Until the (SACS) board approves them as an institution, they don't exist as far as we're concerned."

And that means it can't receive federal grants or student aid. Other universities wouldn't accept its credits.

Students at the Polytechnic school overwhelmingly do not want to be separated from USF. Last year, the Board of Governors voted to delay a decision to split the Polytechnic school from USF.

There are good reason the Polytechnic school and USF is against the split. Under the USF umbrella, Polytechnic has the resources of USF. As an independent school, Polytechnic would have less resources and prestige. Alexander cares about none of this. Alexander was defied by president Judy Genshaft. Alexander was going to legislatively enact revenge. Alexander cut 58 percent of USF's state funding. This was too much for even fellow Republicans to stomach. The Florida Senate killed Alexander's Draconian cuts.

The Senate budget committee has decided to drop controversial language that would have held back $25 million in funding for the University of South Florida until it handed over all the property of USF Polytechnic as part of an initiative to make the Lakeland campus independent.

The budget conforming bill containing the change (SPB 7100) would still create an independent Florida Polytechnic University, but the change seemed to largely soothe Tampa Bay area lawmakers who had sharply criticized withholding the money.

In other news: Alexander fought vigorously to make sure that there was no government oversight of the Senate private prison bills. Alexander claimed that private prisons would save the state money. There would be no way of finding that out since Alexander co-sponsored a bill that would make private prisons exempt from state financial review.

The good news is prison privatization is dead.

After three hours of often-emotional debate Tuesday, the Florida Senate slapped down a controversial plan to put a private company in charge of 14,500 prisoners in South Florida, killing a proposal that potentially meant millions of dollars for the Boca Raton-based Geo Group.

The plan, a top priority of Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, would have privatized 28 prisons and work camps in South Florida. But though it had the clout of the legislative leaders behind it, it divided the Senate and a final vote was delayed for more than a week while both sides wrangled votes.

The proposal split the Senate, which voted 19-21 on the measure, SB 2038.

Gary Siplin was the tiebreaker. I'm speechless. Siplin is not known for doing the right thing. Ever.

Update Alexander is now going after the USF cash reserves. Alexander got hammered at the hearing by fellow senators Jim Norman and Gwen Margolis. Alexander really went over the line when Norman is the voice of reason

A Senate budget hearing is taking place over the next two days, and Wednesday, Senator JD Alexander went round and round with other senators.

Jim Norman, from Hillsborough County fought against Alexander saying, "This acceleration is on the backs of these students who are in college and I am, you don't bargain futures like this, even in this appropriations process," Norman said.

But Alexander instantly responded, "That's not a factual statement. It's being made to inflame folks in an attempt to protect what I believe is an indefensible policy of maintaining too high of a cash balance in universities."

Senator Gwen Margolis, from South Florida told Alexander, "This is probably the worst message you can send to university presidents. Just spend your money, cause they're going to take it away if you don't."

The cash reserves are rainy day funds. If there is an emergency, USF will need that money. Alexander is losing face with this petty feud with USF. He had to back off his original cuts. Now he is going after reserve money. Alexander has literally lost his mind. The Senate freed up $25 million for USF. The university is still facing a dramatic shortfall.

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