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Politics

Gov. Scott vetoes 3% tuition increase


Published:   |   Updated: May 21, 2013 at 06:48 AM

Gov. Rick Scott signs the state’s $74.5 billion budget after eliminating $360 million in appropriations.
TALLAHASSEE Students at the University of South Florida and other state colleges got a gift Monday from Gov. Rick Scott – a veto of the 3-percent tuition hike in this year’s state budget.

Scott signed the $74.5 billion budget lawmakers passed earlier this month after using his line-item veto power to kill more than $360 million in appropriations. The money generated by the tuition increase would have amounted to about $50 million.

Still unclear Monday, though, was whether the tuition veto is legal.

At a midday news conference, Scott explained his three-branched “decision tree” for budget vetoes: “One, is it going to help our families get more jobs; two, will it help improve our education system in our state; and three, will it make government more efficient so we can keep the cost of living low?”

On the tuition increase veto, he sided with college students. Scott’s own proposed budget had no increase in tuition.

“I know in my case and in my wife’s case, we didn’t have parents who could pay. The cost of tuition was very significant to us,” Scott said. “I am absolutely committed to keeping tuition low. This is not a political decision – it’s a decision for Florida families.”

But questions arise because the tuition increase was folded into a larger appropriation dedicated to colleges and universities. The state constitution in some cases prohibits vetoing parts of a larger measure.

It reads, “The governor may veto any specific appropriation in a general appropriation bill, but may not veto any qualification or restriction without also vetoing the appropriation to which it relates.”

“I don’t anticipate a challenge,” Scott said, “but if there is, we’re going to fight it.”

What’s more, a state law allows tuition to rise “at a rate equal to inflation” for resident undergraduates at state institutions.

When reminded of that law, Scott said, “I don’t believe that tuition ought to be going up at all; it’s been going up way too fast.”

Instead of jacking up their cost, state universities should focus on becoming more efficient, he said.

Legislative budget writers, noting that Florida's college tuition costs are among the country's lowest, wanted the 3 percent increase to help finance student aid programs. 

At the University of South Florida, trustee work groups were ready to go ahead this week on making budget plans based on a 3 percent hike.

But the university made it clear Monday that it accepts Scott’s decision.

“The governor has made it clear he does not support tuition increases and USF also is committed to providing a world-class education that is affordable for Florida students and their families,” spokeswoman Lara Wade-Martinez said in a statement.

Wade-Martinez added that the school wouldn’t seek what are formally called “tuition differential” increases this year – a charge of up to 15 percent that is designed to boost funds available for need-based financial aid. 

Such an increase must be approved by the Board of Governors, a majority of whom have been appointed by Scott.

USF “will wait for further direction from leaders in Tallahassee” on increasing tuition based on inflation, Wade-Martinez said.

She also noted that the budget includes more than $40 million for USF projects, including USF Health’s Heart Institute, a new College of Business complex at USF St. Petersburg, and new science courses at Mote Marine Laboratory for USF Sarasota-Manatee students.

Ryan Duffy, spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford, referred to a statement Weatherford released Sunday. The speaker, who built tuition increases into the Legislature’s budget, said he wouldn’t be surprised by the veto and vowed to work for “the benefit of our students.”

Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Senate President Don Gaetz, was not immediately available.

The Board of Governors pointed to budget increases that do remain intact, a contrast to cuts imposed last year.

“Our state leaders recognized the importance of investing in the State University System by restoring the $300 million and providing hundreds of millions in new funds,” said Board of Governors’ spokeswoman Kim Wilmath. “As such, we do not expect to see any tuition differential requests this year.”

A discussion of tuition differentials is scheduled for the Board of Governors’ June meeting at USF.

“We understand that the Governor must make tough choices when evaluating the projects in the state budget, and we respect that,” added Frank T. Brogan, the board’s chancellor.


jrosica@tampatrib.com

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

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