The University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus is receiving the largest cut of millions of federal dollars state lawmakers approved Friday.
The Joint Legislative Budget Commission approved $15 million for an ocean science center at USF through the Local Support Grants Program, a new state mechanism for lawmakers to secure $175 million in federal funds for local projects.
The $15 million project will cover the planning and initial construction costs for the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation. USF notes it will request millions more for the project in future years.
“Once completed, the facility will allow more students at the USF St. Petersburg campus and at USF as a whole to earn STEM degrees, and the research conducted by the Flood Hub will help mitigate the impacts of flooding statewide for homeowners, businesses, and various government entities,” according to the funding request.
St. Pete Beach Republican Rep. Linda Chaney sponsored the request. Another powerful advocate in USF’s corner was a fellow Pinellas County Republican, House Speaker Chris Sprowls.
The project received media scrutiny for its similarity to a $75 million project for the new USF Environmental & Oceanographic Sciences Research & Teaching Facility. Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the project in June, creating questions over whether the Legislature could use the Local Support Grants Program to bypass budget vetoes. The House contends it does, but lawmakers avoided the issue by not approving projects that were identical to ones DeSantis vetoed.
Of the top 10 most expensive projects, two went to Pasco County, home of Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican; three went to Bay County, home of lead House budget negotiator Jay Trumbull; and four went to Chaney and Sprowls’ Pinellas County.
In total, Pinellas County received $25.9 million in local support grants. Among the projects was a $3 million distribution to build the High Liability Training Center, a site for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to train for vehicle pursuits.