Saturday, December 16, 2017
Education

University leaders expect Gov. Rick Scott to veto tuition increase

TALLAHASSEE — Lawmakers included a 3 percent tuition increase in next year's budget, but state universities say they aren't counting on the extra money.

Most expect Gov. Rick Scott to veto the modest tuition increase when he signs the state budget into law in the coming weeks.

"He's come out strongly against tuition increases and fee increases, and now will be a time to see if the governor stands by his word," said Brian Goff, the outgoing student body president at the University of South Florida.

Scott received the budget from the Legislature on Thursday and has until May 24 to decide whether to sign it into law or veto it. He has been clear where he stands on tuition.

"I do not support any tuition increase," the governor says whenever asked.

There's enough to like in the budget for the state's 12 public universities, even without the money a tuition increase would bring.

Lawmakers restored a $300 million cut from university budgets last year, and schools also received additional money for building maintenance and new construction.

The University of Florida and Florida State University will share an extra $45 million because of their status as top-performers, and the whole university system received another $65 million that will be distributed according to performance.

In Jacksonville, University of North Florida president John Delaney said the school is moving forward with the expectation that tuition will not rise.

"At UNF, we are building next year's budget under the assumption that the governor will veto the tuition increase," he said via email. "However, we appreciate the Legislature's recognition that after six years of cuts, the universities are desperate for revenue."

House leaders insisted on and the Senate agreed to the tuition increase, which would raise $18 million for the state universities. A student taking 30 credit hours over the course of a year would pay about $90 extra.

The budget also includes a similar tuition increase for state colleges and workforce education.

Schools have complained that even with several years of double-digit tuition hikes, the cost of earning a degree in Florida is among the cheapest nationwide. But Scott argues that families are struggling already to keep up with tuition and other costs and that each increase leaves someone behind.

To veto the tuition increase, the governor will have to alter budget language that tells universities how much they will charge students per credit hour. Because he isn't removing an actual line item of the budget, some have argued that Scott can't legally veto tuition increases.

In 2007, then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a 5 percent tuition increase that lawmakers put in the budget. The same questions were raised then, but no one challenged him.

Scott's general counsel, Pete Antonacci, said he believes the governor has the legal authority to veto the tuition increase language because Crist did it already.

"Look, anything is subject to the veto pen," Antonacci said. "In this case, Charlie Crist did it, so there's precedent. It's what lawyers like: the fact that somebody did it before. So I think it's doable."

In January, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature has final authority to set university tuition and fees. But leaders in the House and Senate have not indicated they would fight back if Scott vetoed the tuition increase.

Spokesmen for both Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford said any speculation would be premature until they see what the governor actually does.

Staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Contact Tia Mitchell at [email protected]

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