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Local cuts target USF, hospital

In Hillsborough, new clinics and graduate medical education fall to the governor's veto pen. But overall, Tampa General is pleased.

By JEFF TESTERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


TAMPA -- The University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital took the brunt of $21.2-million in budget cuts Tuesday to Hillsborough County projects.

Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed a $10-million appropriation that would have paid for the construction of new clinics at USF's health sciences center, and $5-million for graduate medical education at Tampa General.

The $10-million "was a big one for us," said Kathy Betancourt, USF's vice president for governmental relations. "It's very perplexing as to why it didn't come through."

The $5-million appropropriation would have assisted both USF and Tampa General by underwiting the residency program with reimbursements to the hospital for training young doctors.

"Obviously, we're disappointed," said Tampa General spokesman John Dunn. "On the other hand, more than $17-million survived, mostly for improvements in Medicaid reimbursement.

"On balance, the people of Hillsborough County who depend on Tampa General have to be pleased with the amount legislators and the governor approved."

Local legislators and Hillsborough community leaders sought a $23-million bailout package this legislative session to keep the ailing Davis Islands hospital afloat. Tampa General has lost more than $30-million since converting to private, non-profit status in 1997, and hospital administrators warned that the budget might be deeply cut and bond covenants violated if the bailout failed.

Bush's line-item vetos statewide came to about $313-million.

The governor emphasized that greater prosperity led to greater spending in the fiscal year 2000-01 state budget, particularly for education, environmentally sensitive lands, child welfare, disability programs and road and bridge improvements. But he also said, "Outstripping a fast-paced economy is a recipe for unnecessary big government."

The governor's office said that vetoes generally fell on projects that did not go through an approved funding process, were not a priority from a state policy standpoint or sought state money from inappropriate sources.

"I'm personally disappointed," said state Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa. "I had three really good health care projects in the budget and was unaware of any problems or obstacles. Then, all of a sudden on Friday, I hear they're facing veto."

Murman threw her support behind the $10-million appropriation to provide new clinic space to train doctors and other health care professionals, as well as house Children's Medical Services programs.

Murman also supported two $500,000 appropriations earmarked for construction of a new clinic for the poor in Gibsonton and renovation of a clinic in Dover.

"It's an impoverished area, but it's also a growing area," Murman said. "And they badly need these clinics."

Murman thought the local legislative delegation "did very well" with the Tampa General package. But she wondered whether Bush's staff mistakenly believed the $5-million item vetoed was money duplicated in the larger, $17-million-plus bail-out package.

"We've got to keep going back to the governor and we've got to have better communication," Murman said. "We've got to get on the same page and sing the same song."

Other vetoed projects include:

$1.5-million for county health department projects, including the demolition of the aging W.T. Edwards Center.

$500,000 to finance a USF "kinship program" designed to support adult caregivers who provide alternatives to foster care.

$415,000 to support the hospital for injured manatees at the Lowry Park Zoo.

$150,000 to construct a 10,000-square-foot senior center in the Town N' Country area.

$85,000 for a scallop hatchery at USF.

$50,000 for renovation of the Baylife mental health facility.

-- Times staff writer Barry Klein contributed to this report.

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