Editorial: Budget lacks long-term vision

Published May 20, 2013

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law on Monday a $74.1 billion state budget for 2013-14 that makes few waves thanks to an improving economy and a predictable list of vetoes totaling $368 million. Florida finally has returned to at least modestly investing in education and the environment. But Scott's veto of a 3 percent tuition increase for state colleges and universities is shortsighted, and his clumsy effort to extort promises from university presidents and others is inappropriate.

Scott's list of vetoes were full of lawmakers' pet projects — the dubious spending that often arises late in the legislative session, such as $50 million for the Coast-to-Coast connector. The concept of a statewide, east-west bike trail is not a bad one, but it deserves more scrutiny before tax dollars are spent.

Yet the budget shows once again that Tallahassee lacks leaders with long-term vision. On Monday, Scott boasted about a $300 million increase in funding for the state university system — just a year after leading the charge to cut the same amount even as he backed the outrageous creation of the state's 12th university, Florida Polytechnic, from the University of South Florida's Lakeland campus.

That's not to say next year's reinvestment in education isn't welcome. There is roughly $1 billion more for public schools, including $480 million for long-delayed teacher pay raises that Scott championed. But disappointingly, for a second year, the governor vetoed $3 million to expand a proven program to teach algebra to middle school students started by SRI International in Pinellas County — the very kind of innovation the state could use to improve math results.

Scott was similarly shortsighted on vetoing the 3 percent tuition increase for college and university students, who currently pay among the lowest in-state tuition in the nation. Scott on Monday argued Florida should be proud it offers cheap tuition but failed to acknowledge that the lost revenue means Florida will continue to spend dramatically less per student than most other states. At many universities, that will mean fewer and bigger classes and more faculty fleeing to higher-paying states. It will also mean many students won't get the courses they need to finish on time. Just one extra semester cancels out any tuition savings from Scott's veto.

Most unusual was how the governor tried to extract written promises or concessions from various potential recipients of state money, implying that without them he would veto line-items. He even tried to get state university presidents to sign a form letter that they wouldn't push for tuition increases before the Board of Governors. It was an odd tactic unbecoming the governor and interfered with the responsibilities of the Legislature and the Board of Governors.

Florida heads into 2013-14 with more money but not any better long-term vision for the future.