USF Lakeland Campus Moves Closer to Reality

In a world where perception is often considered more important than truth, the USF Lakeland campus scored a coup with a simple pronouncement from Governor Charlie Crist:

“You don’t have to sell me; I’m sold.”

There was a lot of confusion last year when Crist killed money for the campus. It was mistakenly added to a list of projects deemed “turkeys” by Florida TaxWatch. The group advertised their error too late for the Governor to approve the cash.

What followed was a months long campaign to convince Lakeland and Polk County politicians, and area citizens, that the project will be a boon for the metro I-4 area.

It seems to have worked. Both the Lakeland and Polk County Commission have pledged funds to help construct the campus.

The new campus is a good idea. We need a full, four year university for one of the faster growing parts of the state. There is no doubt about that.

However, in the world of politics as usual, one of the main supporters of the campus sounds willing to throw it under the bus in an effort to promote a poorly planned project — the CSX Rail Hub.

However, another booster for the project at the meeting, Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Winter Haven, said afterward that Lakeland supporters of the project should stop fighting a deal with CSX to bring commuter rail to Orlando and reroute more freight through Lakeland.

“I think it’s important for everybody in the community to understand it all goes together. It’s all important,” he said.

Alexander was asked by a reporter if he was suggesting that the USF campus funding could be trade-bait with Lakeland lawmakers to drop opposition to the rail deal.

“They’re not connected,” he said. “But folks ought to understand that all these things are important.” — Orlando Sentinel

“They’re not connected, but…”

If Alexander doesn’t want the projects connected in the perception of the press and the voters…why bring up CSX at all? If he wanted to talk about how “all things are important” then why not use the opportunity to discuss water conservation, gas prices, or the population boom’s impact on our infrastructure?

Alexander has publicly allied himself with that hub. He seems willing to taint the wonderful work he has done for education because he’s in the middle of a political fight over CSX.

There is no connection between USF Lakeland and CSX Winter Haven. To put that perception into the public mind is an example of the worst of deal brokering.

For those who are not regular readers of Lakeland Local, my wife is the Librarian at USF Lakeland. I don’t run USF articles or editorials past her. She doesn’t ask me to write any. We have had disagreements over the proposed USF Polytechnic campus. (Gist: She’s for the idea. I don’t think it’s the best option.) Please read this personal statement about bias.

Update: 5:44 pm. At 3:19 pm the Orlando Sentinel blog, Central Florida Political Pulse reported that JD Alexander released the following statement this afternoon:

“Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with Governor Charlie Crist, along with Rep. Seth McKeel, University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft, and Dr. Marshall Goodman, about proposed funding for the USF Lakeland campus. I am very pleased to see the Polk County community rally around this crucial project and present a united front of support for the USF Lakeland Polytechnic campus … With the Governor’s backing and the support of our community, we look forward to seeing this dream become a reality.” — Orlando Sentinel

Aaron Deslatte headlined the article Alexander clears up the record on CSX, USF-Lakeland. Unless Deslatte left something pertinent out of the statement, I don’t see that comment pushing the genie back in the bottle. If Alexander wants to clear up the record how about: There is no connection between USF Lakeland and CSX Winter Haven.