While Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s recommended 2017-2018 budget is titled “Fighting For Florida’s Future,” many agencies and entities on the receiving end of costly cuts would likely beg to differ.
Among the would-be budgetary casualties are several longstanding UF/IFAS research and education programs, including:
- 4-H — $1 million
- Florida Horticulture Research, Science, & Education — $1.45 million
- Bok Tower Educational Initiative — $2 million
- Tropical Aquaculture Lab (TAL) — $778,987
- Geomatics Education — $636,120
- FL Agriculture Initiative — $125,000
In addition, a new funding initiative, which includes a renovation project comprising $750,000 in upgrades to the UF/IFAS Tropical Research & Education Center in Homestead, also fell to Scott’s veto.
In response, UF/IFAS Communications sent out a letter to stakeholders informing them of the impact the vetoes would have on existing services. A portion of the letter reads as follows:
“We were not as successful in prevailing upon the governor to continue programs with a record of helping stakeholders create jobs, earn profits, and contribute to the economy of Florida communities. The vetoes withdraw funding approved years ago that pays the salaries of faculty who solve stakeholders’ problems season after season.
… Impacts could include a near complete shutdown of the Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin. It is the only research and development support for an industry with tens of millions of dollars in annual sales and thousands of employees. Florida accounts for 95% of U.S. production of aquarium fish.
Another veto eliminates funding for geomatics education. That exacerbates a critical shortage of professionals who can gather, analyze, and interpret mapping and surveying data. More than half of graduates with this kind of education own their own companies.
Vetoed funding for the Center for Landscape Ecology and Conservation is a direct hit to Florida’s ornamental plant industry, which relies on science from the center that it cannot get at such a great value from any other source. Stripping funding from the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education strikes at expertise on consumer behavior and attitudes that commodity groups rely upon to gauge markets and manage their businesses.
Vetoes also threaten the promise of our future leaders. Losing numerous 4-H faculty would send ripples across a state where more than 200,000 youth depend on 4-H for experience that prepares them for high-tech, STEM careers.
Similarly, the veto of the Florida Agriculture Initiative reduces opportunity for high school students to connect with agriculture and natural resource issues when there are already too few university graduates qualified to fill the jobs in this sector.
When the state retracts support for UF/IFAS, that puts limits on how we can support you. The vetoes will impact the productive, hard-working faculty who focus on your issues. We will institute a hiring freeze and consider other options to keep these men and women on the job for you. But make no mistake, we’ll all feel the pain of not being able to fill vacancies. We simply no longer have the money to keep UF/IFAS at full strength.”
As of this posting, members of the state House and Senate were still vetting the Governor’s budget and considering veto overrides. Growers and stakeholders are encouraged to contact their senator and local representative in support of 4-H, FFA, and UF/IFAS funding.
[Update June 12, 2017] The Legislative Special Session has concluded with Scott’s suggested cuts involving the UF/IFAS programs intact. More to come as impacts develop.