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Schools' matching funds to return
Legislative leaders say they'll budget paying off a backlog of matching gifts withheld from colleges and universities recently.
By ANITA KUMAR and ALISA ULFERTS
Published February 18, 2004
TALLAHASSEE - State legislative leaders agreed Tuesday to give Florida's universities and community colleges $186-million to match hundreds of private donations for scholarships, endowed chairs and research programs.
The deal, which will have to be approved by the Legislature this spring, came after major donors and higher education officials complained that schools have struggled to keep private money rolling in following several years of cuts in matching state money.
"I think essentially this goes a long way and it restores donor confidence in the matching gift program," said Michael Rierson, vice president for advancement at the University of South Florida. "This puts a light at the end of the tunnel."
Donors have started to demand contracts that guarantee their gifts will be returned if the state doesn't pay its share. Others have vowed not to give more until the state matches pending gifts. Some have pledged money but won't hand over their check until the state comes through with the funding. School officials said Tuesday they hope donors will change their attitudes after the Legislature covers the entire backlog.
"It's good news," said Paul Robell, vice president for development at the University of Florida. "We're heartened by it."
Senate President Jim King surprised school officials at a meeting Tuesday, telling them he pledged to find $186-million in one-time money to eliminate the backlog next year. He said he does not know where he will get the money.
"We have either not seen fit or not been able to appropriate matching state dollars in the past, which is our part of the bargain," King, R-Jacksonville, said in a statement. "Not only does this jeopardize future fundraising efforts, it breaks a promise we made to our community colleges and state universities."
The state owes the 11 public universities $112.7-million and the 28 community colleges $73.2-million under a law requiring Florida to match private donations above a certain amount.
The backlog in some cases is holding up scholarships, research programs and endowed chairs. That includes $13-million at USF for three chairs in pediatrics and improvements to the Tampa Bay History Center.
Rep. David Simmons, a Longwood Republican who oversees education spending for the House, said the House and Senate have reached a consensus on paying the backlog.
"It is my understanding that there is the intent to do that," said Simmons after speaking to House Speaker Johnnie Byrd's office Tuesday afternoon. "There is consensus that these should be paid."
Byrd, who could not be reached for comment, pledged to find money late last year if the schools agreed to limit the size of donations that will be matched with state money.
State and school officials will consider capping state matches at $3-million a year on any project, not to exceed $15-million over five years. They also would raise the minimum amount qualifying for a match.
That minimum is now $100,000, with the state contributing 50 percent, or $50,000. The bigger the gift, the bigger the match, with a 100 percent match on gifts of more than $2-million.
Dan Holsenbeck, a University of Central Florida vice president, said school officials agreed to the cap.
"Everybody is very pleased that it looks like both the House and Senate recognize this great program," Holsenbeck said. "It's a very positive move, certainly one that will help the institutions."
Last year, the matching gift program was one of many issues dividing the House and Senate as they tried to negotiate a state budget.
The Senate suggested giving the universities money to cover much of the backlog but didn't identify a source. The House recommended no money.
Since the matching program began in 1979, the state has given universities about $400-million for scholarships, professorships and other programs.
Gov. Jeb Bush proposes to give $25-million to the universities and $31-million to community colleges for the matching gift program. The legislative session begins March 2.
Matching the backlog
Florida owes money to its universities and community colleges under a law that requires the state to match private donations. Here is a breakdown of what is owed, in millions: