House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo is looking to take a breather on education-related new construction and rehabs.
The Public Education Capital Outlay Trust Fund, or PECO, is used for maintaining, restoring and repairing existing state education facilities. It includes Florida colleges, universities and K-12 schools.
Funded by gross receipts taxes, or charges on utilities and communication services, PECO is typically used for maintenance, but also provides funding for renovation and construction projects.
It’s these renovation and construction projects that prompted Trujillo, a Miami-Dade Republican, to speak a few agenda-setting words during a committee meeting Monday.
A PECO analyst explained that the fund is obliged to provide roughly $743 million to ongoing projects and estimates it will take four years to do so—without funding new projects. Trujillo spoke up, offering a blunt solution.
“I think the best approach, at least in my humble opinion, is why don’t we fund everything that we have a commitment to,” Trujillo said. Then, “let’s take a year off (new projects).”
Public education institutions submit a list of priorities for PECO funding each year. Last year the State Board of Education requested 14 projects for Florida Colleges totaling $167 million over three years, nine of which were funded by the Legislature at $45 million.
The Legislature also funded 17 projects for Florida colleges that were not requested by the Board of Education, but were instead “surveyed needs.”
Similarly, the State University System Board of Governors requested 10 projects totaling $243 million over three years, eight of which were funded at just $73 million.
The Legislature funded an additional 13 projects at $83 million—all of which were not requested by the State University System.
Trujillo explained that legislators typically take up some requested projects and then “run and fight” for additional projects they want, creating a hybrid collection.
He also speculated the problem might lie with what education systems are lobbying for, saying institutions should advocate for what they really need, rather than extraneous items.
“Everybody advocates for the nice, new, shiny brick building,” Trujillo said. “Nobody advocates for the failing, compromised roofing system.”
On a grim note, he explained that they might be in fiscal trouble—even without new projects.
Even if, Trujillo said, an additional project is not brought forth ”we have so many projects that we spent money on engineering, architectural and surveying plans that we never will have the money to actually break ground and develop buildings.”
He hinted that the issue might be a systemic one, as legislators have identified the fund as helpful for pork-barrel projects.
“Let’s not come with new ideas and new projects that are popular today because a constituent or a constituency wants them.”
When it comes to building the budget, Trujillo said PECO is one of the most “revered” portions.
“And the reason is because we’ve shown so much flexibility in our inability to be disciplined in it.”