Florida schools will have little construction money next year after state economists reduced their estimate by 70 percent Monday.
Schools will have about $113 million available, down from the $380 million initially expected for the budget year beginning July 1, 2012.
Utility taxes provide much of the school construction fund, but economists said fewer people are buying electricity because businesses have closed or larger homes remain vacant. The school bond fund is being hit by a longer-term trend too: More consumers are buying energy-efficient appliances.
College students could see the impact first, the News Service of Florida reports:
State university officials said the recent dramatic drop in building money is unprecedented. Given the bleak forecast, universities are not likely to get anywhere near the full $145 million requested last month for classroom construction, renovation and repairs.
“It is something we have taken for granted,” said Chris Kinsley, the director of finance and facilities for the State University System. “Now we are saying, ‘What do we do about it?’”
For years, universities have watched with concern the amount of money available for classroom construction dwindle. This year, universities and colleges faced another obstacle in the form of Gov. Rick Scott, who vetoed $164 million in construction projects for these schools. That left $57 million for universities, enough to mostly fund repairs and maintenance, with very little left for new construction.
The ongoing PECO drought has caused many universities and colleges to scramble to find enough classrooms for their growing student bodies. This means more students are taking night classes, online classes, and using portable classrooms to make up for the lack of classroom space.