Gov. Scott's responsibility for tuition increases and pushing the envelope of communications
Gov. Rick Scott's office is attempting to distance itself from the higher-ed protests around the state, particularly the fingers pointing blame at him for this year's tuition increase. But a memo sent Tuesday by his communications director once again makes some points that others (including some officials inside Scott's executive office) will not.
Earlier this month, communications director Brian Burgess sent a memo hoping to avoid some mild embarrassment for his boss insisting that Solantic, the Florida-based chain of health care clinics started by Scott, was not relocating its corporate headquarters to Tennessee. The company won't make the same claim.
On Tuesday, Burgess sought to combat some seemingly* sloppy reporting that characterized the 15 percent tuition increase this year as "Gov. Rick Scott's tuition increase." But Burgess' attempt to list "the facts" -- including one that "Gov. Scott had nothing to do with any tuition hike" -- seems to again blur the line taxpayers might expect between spin from a privately-funded campaign and communications from an office they subsidize.
First, a nod to Burgess: Scott did not campaign on raising tuition and did not recommend a hike in his budget proposal. To say the tuition hike is Scott's is careless at best. (*We should note here that we can't find the actual news outlet that specifically called it "Gov. Rick Scott's tuition increase.")
But Scott has some responsibility here, too. He signed a budget into law that increased tuition by 8 percent. If Scott felt strongly enough about the tuition increase he could have vetoed the entire budget and forced (incredibly irate) lawmakers back to the drawing table.
There is also a precedent that suggests Scott could have left the budget intact and specifically vetoed the tuition increase. Burgess' memo says the governor "has no constitutional authority to veto tuition increases in the budget." Former Gov. Charlie Crist did just that in 2007.
Some argued, as Burgess does now, that Crist's veto could have been overturned in court. But no one challenged it. And we know a potential court challenge isn't enough to scare Scott off of a decision. (See: League of Women Voters v. Scott, Altman v. Scott, Whiley v. Scott, Flamm v. Scott, Sullivan v. Scott, Williams v. Scott, etc.)
Steve MacNamara, Scott's chief of staff, said he didn't know if Burgess' assertion was correct. Budget director Jerry McDaniel said there was a "wide variety of issues involved."
In his memo, Burgess blamed the tuition increase this year on a 2007 law approved by a Republican-controlled Legislature that gives universities some control over raising tuition up to 15 percent. That's also a stretch.
The way the law worked this year is that Scott and lawmakers signed off on an 8 percent hike and universities took their option of bumping it to 15 percent. But this is a decision that happens every year: Lawmakers cannot make future spending decisions beyond the annual budget.
It's also worth noting that earlier this year Scott supported giving universities additional flexibility in setting tuition.
"In business, you would raise prices," he said in March.
Pushed about a specific plan to double the cap to 30 percent, Scott did not reject it outright as others did, including Senate President Mike Haridopolos.
"There's two sides to it," Scott said. "Step one, we have to make sure we don't waste dollars and keep tuition low as possible. The other side is we've got to make sure we have the dollars in our system so we can have the best professors, the best system. It's both sides."
Here's the Burgess memo:
Not sure if you’ve been covering this or if you plan to, but today several media outlets around the state have been inaccurately reporting that “students are protesting Governor Rick Scott’s college tuition increase.” I just wanted to take a moment to set out of the facts so that falsehoods don’t continue to be repeated on the radio, on TV or in print. Regardless of the purported reason for the protests, here are the facts:
1. Gov. Scott had nothing to do with any tuition hike.
2. The annual 15% tuition increases now taking affect were signed into law back in 2007 by Gov. Charlie Crist, and approved by the Board of Governors. Here’s a helpful link for background: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/differential-tuition-bill-passed-1.1423643#.TtUM6rKIm0s
3. Gov. Scott has no constitutional authority to veto tuition increases in the budget, as they are not line-item dollar amounts.
4. Florida currently has some of the least expensive tuition costs in the nation.
5. Gov. Scott is working closely with Chancellor Brogan and the Board of Governors, as well as individual universities to enact student-centered reforms, and the Governor welcomes an open dialogue with students, parents, professors, and administrators.
If you have any questions, please let me know.
Executive Office of Governor Rick Scott