By Francisco Gonzalez, JMI Development Director
As reported in the July 2011 issue of Florida Trend, only one state government appropriation for higher education survived Governor Rick Scott’s veto pen. It was $35 million for a building for USF Polytechnic in Lakeland, as part of its new campus master plan. A “pet project” of Senator J.D. Alexander, Florida Trend reporter Cynthia Barnett suggests that Senator Alexander’s clout as budget chief testifies to why this was the only higher education project saved in a tough year for our state’s budget. I could not help but notice another detail of the story: while the $35 million for this building was saved, Governor Scott vetoed additional monies for two other buildings that were planned for the School of Pharmacy and an Interdisciplinary Center for Excellence and Wellness Research. However, despite Governor Scott rejecting state money for these buildings, USF Polytechnic is moving forward with the latter thanks to an anonymous $5 million donation for the wellness-research center. In addition, the school is also building residential student housing with private donations. This demonstrates to me that there is a space for private philanthropy in lieu of taxpayer funding for projects such as these. In addition, there are now actual real donors who will likely be more engaged and have stronger ties to this institution of higher learning, as they voluntarily gave their own money – in contrast to the “ghost” taxpayer donor who does not have a strong connection to where the specific funding of their personal taxes go.Government leaders and paid lobbyists spend lots of time, money, and resources lobbying government to secure money from the taxpayer coffers for funding all sorts of projects, from higher education to social services. What if they diverted some, if not all, of those efforts to seeking out grants from private foundations, corporations, and individual philanthropists? There is no limit to the American philanthropic spirit. This would then reduce the burden on taxpayers and allow our government (local, state, and federal) to concentrate resources on the most essential services and to better prioritize the true role of good government. And taxpayers would have more money back in their pockets to invest into the economy for things such as homes and small businesses, thus creating more jobs and opportunity. Or better yet, with more money in each of our pockets, we could each have extra funding for our favorite charities, further reducing the need for government services and fostering a stronger – and more engaged – civil society.