Senate budget-writers expressed skepticism about some elements of Gov. Rick Scott's $74.2 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, including a provision that would single out the University of Florida for $15 million to help in its quest to become a Top 10 university.
The members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that raised the issue in a Wednesday meeting with Scott's budget director, Jerry McDaniel, seemed to be receptive to UF getting the money -- as long as Florida State University also gets help with its goal of joining the prestigious Association of American Universities.
"If we're going to spend $15 million for the University of Florida, which I think is a great idea, then I think we should have an equal amount for Florida State University," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
Negron also didn't preclude the possibility that senators could seek funding for other universities as well.
"Let's look at all our universities and work to make all of them as best they can be," he said.
Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican and proud FSU alumnus, also raised the issue. After the meeting, he told reporters that the money should "come from the same place where the governor's getting it" for UF.
"There is a need to have these two universities elevated, no question about it," Thrasher said.
Thrasher also called for caution on expanding the size of spending as the state emerges from the aftereffects of the recession.
"It just seems to me we need to be darned sure that we're funding the right priorities, but also making sure that our reserves are solid and making sure that in case we have a rainy day ... that we've got the necessary resources to deal with that," Thrasher said.
McDaniel highlighted the $1.3 billion in reserves that Scott's plan calls for -- up from the Legislature's goal in recent years of saving $1 billion.
"We would support high levels of reserves," McDaniel said. "[Scott] loves that."
McDaniel also conceded that some Florida teachers might not get the full $2,500 raise that has served as the centerpiece of Scott's focus on the state education budget. He said collective bargaining in some school districts could cause teachers to get different amounts.
"We recognize that one teacher may get $4,000, and one teacher may get $1,000," McDaniel said. "But the governor's basic belief is that he wanted to lay a good, strong baseline."
Scott has generally glossed over that difference, including during his remarks last week announcing his overall budget, which he said would "give each classroom teacher a $2,500 pay raise."