A month after the Florida Senate obliged its perturbed president by voting to abolish the university system Board of Governors, the House has maintained steady radio silence. That could mean Speaker Marco Rubio won't be party to a political grudge against higher education, or it could mean he's holding trade bait. History supports the latter assumption, but universities deserve the former.
The plan being pushed by Senate President Ken Pruitt is at best destabilizing to the university system. The Board of Governors was created by voters little more than five years ago after a previous House speaker persuaded lawmakers to abolish the university Board of Regents. The new board's constitutional status was intended to insulate it from further legislative attack and allay the concerns of talented academic professionals.
That history hasn't stopped Pruitt from pursuing his own vendetta, though. He's angry because the board has spoken out about the declining state support for universities and because the board wants to increase rock-bottom tuition in ways that could inflate the cost of his favorite scholarship program, Bright Futures. Rather than confront those challenges directly, he instead wants to put the board out of business. His amendment would substitute a smaller board that would be allowed to perform only the duties the Legislature would prescribe.
When the bill reached the Senate floor last month, two Tampa Bay area senators, Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Charlie Justice of St. Petersburg, were among the few who dared to stand up to Pruitt. They put universities ahead of political fealty and, given the same choice, most House members likely would rather avoid a vote altogether.
Rubio has said little publicly about the issue, but he has talked enough about his allegiance to public universities to suggest he would not otherwise be inclined toward such a hostile attack. He also has pledged not to play the games of political barter that typically occur in the final days of a legislative session.
Just last week, Rubio's education chairman was speaking on a health plan proposed by Gov. Charlie Crist when he admonished House colleagues: "If you think your job is to come here and vote for the governor, you're not doing your job." Presumably, that same standard would apply to votes for the Senate president, particularly when his cause is entirely personal.