UF/IFAS sees success

Ashley Robinson Florida, Legislative, Top Posts, VSCNews magazine

Florida House Representative Randy Fine meets with UF/IFAS leaders, including Dean of Extension Nick Place, Director of Governmental Affairs Mary Ann Hooks and Associate Vice President Jeanna Mastrodicasa to discuss budget requests during the 2020 legislative session.

By Mary Ann Hooks

After several disappointing budget years, the 2020 legislative session will go on record as one of the most successful for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The UF/IFAS priority this year was to increase our base budget. We submitted an appropriation request for a workload increase to make up for losses over recent years and fill critical positions in research and Extension. 

Budget conference negotiations were the traditional UF/IFAS rollercoaster as we were down, then up, then down and then up in a really big way.

Negotiations were delayed as the struggle to make sure money was available to offset the expected economic impacts of COVID-19 was added to the other outstanding budget issues. 

The late nights and lost weekend paid off. At midnight on Friday, March 13, the House offered a total of $2,586,078 for workload and the Senate accepted the offer. On Saturday afternoon, during the final Conference Committee meeting, an additional $1,213,922 was added to workload, meeting our initial request and bringing us a total of $3.8 million.

In addition, a bill that regulates, conforms and adds new specialty licenses plates and deletes under-performing plates included a Florida 4-H tag. This will provide some additional funding for the 4-H program.

Also, to our great relief, the House accepted the Senate position to maintain full funding for the quarantine facility that establishes biological controls for invasive species in Fort Pierce and for the statewide Lake Watch program. Both programs had been written out of the House budget bill.

The Legislature included $300 million in the $93.2 billion budget to provide for the resulting economic losses due to the COVID-19 virus. In addition, given the state’s heavy reliance on tourism, it included $3.9 billion in reserve funding, in expectation of a loss of revenues. At this point, there is no way to know if that will be adequate to make up for losses, even with the addition of federal emergency funds.

We don’t expect the budget to be finalized until June, as the impacts to the economy are still a moving target. Gov. DeSantis and the Legislature are waiting to see how things play out so state economic and budget experts will have more information to base revenue estimates.

We are working closely with the governor’s staff to provide information on UF/IFAS statewide work and how through the pandemic, our service continues to support the agriculture and natural resources industry. Budget vetoes are going to be different than they would have been a month ago and are yet to be determined. We don’t know what that will mean to our budget, but what we do know is that everyone will be impacted. 

These are interesting times indeed.

Mary Ann Hooks is director of UF/IFAS governmental affairs

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