40th Anniversary in Focus: Legislators, including local alum, all the difference in funding effort

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: February 04, 2016

Editor’s note: The story here is part of a series of 40 stories commemorating USF Sarasota-Manatee’s 40th anniversary this academic year. For more about USFSM’s history, please visit usfsm.edu/anniversary.

When USF Sarasota-Manatee tried to land $23 million in state funds for a new campus it turned to Ron Reagan, an insurance agent and member of the USFSM Class of ’77.

Fortunately for USFSM, Reagan also happened to be a District 67 state representative.

With help from a raft of lawmakers, including Sens. Mike Bennett and Lisa Carlton and Reps. Nancy Detert and Bill Galvano, the Manatee County Republican helped secure necessary funding in the 2004 and 2005 budget cycles to enable the 108,000-square-foot campus building to open on time in fall 2006 at the former Crosley Estate, just north of New College.

Securing the cash for his alma mater wasn’t a pet project. Before he was elected, the state purchased 28 acres of the 45-acre estate for $2 million then spent another $1.5 million on designs and engineering for a proposed campus.

Plus, Reagan, whose district at the time included parts of Manatee, Sarasota and Hillsborough counties, could see the potential a university campus might offer the region and local economy. Most important, he hoped it would address the “brain drain” of local youth leaving for college and jobs outside the area.

“It was good fight for us to get into,” he said, recalling hours of conversations and meetings to win over lawmakers. “It was a concerted effort by a lot of people, including other legislators and a lot of alumni.”

With prodding from Reagan and the Alumni Association, local businesses, chambers of commerce and locally elected officials banded together to join that fight. Additional backing came from USF and USFSM alumni in the form of hundreds of letters and phone calls to state lawmakers.

The collective intent for all of these supporters was to convince House and Senate leaders to add the funding requests to the state’s proposed spending plans. “I must have talked to at least 50 people personally,” Reagan said.

Getting the requests past the House and Senate budget committees was the biggest hurdle, but then supporters had to hold their breath while then-Gov. Jeb Bush considered whether to support the allocations or exercise his line-item veto. Although some last-minute debate emerged whether to support them, he backed the allocations each time.

“We were worried right to the bitter end, because anything could have happened,” Reagan said. “Fortunately, it went our way.”

Looking back, he considers the funding battles a “definite” highlight of his eight years as a state legislator. Cajoling fellow lawmakers wasn’t difficult once they understood what it meant to the region for USFSM to have its own campus, apart from New College of Florida, he said. The two institutions were separated by a legislative act in 2001, but USFSM was forced to remain at New College until it could build its own campus.

“We were very fortunate,” he said. “We had a good team and worked hard. This was definitely a collective effort by a lot of people.”

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