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UCF turns to high-powered consultant
A major player in Tallahassee and aroundthe country will advise on economic matters.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER, Times Staff Writer
Published September 21, 2007
TALLAHASSEE - The fight for higher education dollars could get ugly when lawmakers meet next month, with Gov. Charlie Crist recommending more than $300-million in budget cuts that would - among other things - put off funding for new medical schools at the University of Central Florida and Florida International University.
But going into the special session, UCF has a potentially significant advantage over the other 10 state universities: the services of former Jeb Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger consultant Donna Arduin, whose firm is getting $19,200 to serve as an "economic development" consultant through the end of this year.
UCF first hired Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics at the end of 2005 to develop an "economic impact model" for the university's planned medical school and surrounding community, said Dan Holsenbeck, vice president of university relations.
She created the presentations UCF gave to then-Gov. Jeb Bush and other elected and education officials in pitching their long-sought medical school. That contract ended in mid 2006.
Holsenbeck said he decided to hire Arduin's firm again in March because he was going to her anyway for advice and guidance on issues like the state's revenue picture.
"Over the years, I've hired all kinds of consultants, and we're pleased to have this contract with Donna," Holsenbeck said. "No one else has done more high-level work like this than Donna Arduin. Just look at her resume."
Arduin is a major player in Tallahassee and around the country, having advised former Gov. Jeb Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and helping craft Speaker Marco Rubio's failed plan to swap property taxes for a higher sales tax. Rubio recently signed Arduin's firm to a $10,000-a-month contract that has her consulting the House on budget matters through spring 2008.
Arduin stressed that she is not a lobbyist and won't be lobbying for UCF.
Holsenbeck said he made sure to include a ban against lobbying in her contract, which states: "Consultant may be called upon to make representation on behalf of UCF but not engage in any lobbying activities with the Legislature or any other elected officials."
"We did not want there to be any conflict," Holsenbeck said.
The current contract has Arduin's firm assisting UCF "in arranging visits with pertinent officials relative to economic development and related issues."
Arduin said she has done no such work for the other Florida universities, but Holsenbeck doesn't see UCF's relationship with her as an advantage.
"We are not asking her for any privileged information, and Donna is too smart to do that."
Gov. Crist's list of nearly $1-billion in recommended budget cuts includes "delaying" more than $10-million in startup funding for UCF and Florida International University, which both have already begun hiring staff for new medical schools approved last year by the Board of Governors.
Rubio said he can't comment until knowing more about the UCF contract.
"I'll talk to our staff about it," he said. "I don't exactly know the scope of her employment."
Staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3403.