Florida International University med school seeks $10 million of county bond money
By Ted Carter
Miami-Dade commissioners are expected to decide Dec. 3 whether to give $10 million in General Obligation Bond interest earnings to Florida International University's fledgling medical school or use the money to accelerate future bond projects.
Commissioners will have to decide whether helping FIU build an ambulatory health clinic on the main campus merits straying from an unofficial policy limiting bond money to projects included in the program when voters approved it.
The county commission's Governmental Affairs and Environment Committee endorsed the move last week after receiving the proposal from the Building Better Communities Citizens Advisory Committee, a 21-member panel set up to oversee the $2.9 billion bond program and accompanying ad valorem tax that voters approved in 2004.
The committee voted 5-4 to allocate funds to FIU, with dissenters arguing that spending of interest money should be limited to speeding up projects already part of the program or covering cost overruns.
The county never set guidelines for spending the tens of millions in interest the bond program would generate. Absent a policy, the unofficial plan was to devote the money to moving up projects slated for bond program phases in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
That changed with the advisory committee's endorsement of the FIU expenditure, said Robin Reiter-Faragalli, committee chair and opponent of diverting the money outside the established program. "For the last year or so we discussed that the interest would go for expediting [projects] for later years or covering cost overruns," she said, "but not to spend the money on non-General Obligation Bond programs."
Sending $10 million to FIU would leave $10 million in interest earnings from the current $260 million bond issuance.
FIU wants to tap the interest earnings to help fund an ambulatory health clinic seen as a cornerstone to a planned public health partnership between the new medical school and the Jackson Public Health System. FIU's med school will be joining South Florida University in Tampa with the distinction of having a Florida college of public health.
Jackson plans a prominent role, including having its office of public health occupy the first two floors of the university's four-story college of public health. The ambulatory health clinic is key to the plan, said Jackson Public Health System CEO Marvin O'Quinn in urging support for the $10 million allocation. "This will promote our goal of expanding services to underserved neighborhoods," Mr. O'Quinn wrote to the Governmental Affairs and Environment Committee.
In a pitch to committee members last week, FIU President Modesto Maidique said the university's college of medicine has been "under attack" from state budget writers. He noted the new college escaped cuts this year but might not next year.
A major donor has backed out of a pledge, Dr. Maidique said, but fundraising for the medical college has been generating about $8 million a month.