Fla. lawmakers sign off on college tuition hikes
TALLAHASSEE — Top Florida Republican legislators - insisting that tuition in the state remains a "bargain" - are calling for a 3 percent tuition hike this fall. It's not clear, however, if the tuition hike for college and university students will take effect because Gov. Rick Scott has said he would oppose any attempts to raise tuition. But budget negotiators went ahead Friday night and agreed to the tuition hike as part of the final negotiations over a $74 billion proposed budget. Legislators have until Tuesday to wrap up their work in order to end the session by May 3. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and Senate budget chief, defended the proposed hike as a modest increase. He also pointed out that in the final go-round of negotiations, legislators agreed to put more money into financial aid programs."We have made a number of wise investments in making sure students in Florida can attend college," Negron said. Florida coll ege students do pay among some of the lowest tuition rates in the nation. But Scott earlier this week repeated his opposition to any tuition hikes this year. "Florida families can't afford it," said Scott, a Republican who faces re-election next year. "...Every time they raise tuition, which they have done for five straight years, it impacts the poorest families in the state and their ability to go to college." Scott could use his veto pen to wipe out the tuition hike. But Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland and House budget chief, insisted that the governor should be pleased with the budget because it includes many of his priorities. Legislators also agreed to several other high-profile spending items on Friday night. They agreed to abandon a Florida Senate proposal to shift $10.3 million intended for domestic security programs for use in efforts to bolster security at schools. Top emergency management and law enforcement officials in the last few days had started raising alarms about the proposal in the wake of the deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon. Budget negotiators also agreed to spend up to $71 million on incentives meant to lure new companies to the state. Scott had sought $278 million for incentives because he wanted the money in case he could lure a large employer to the state. Lawmakers also reached agreement on a handful of environmental funding issues, including $70 million for Everglades restoration projects and money for the state's land-buying program, Florida Forever. In both instances, legislators came close to what Scott had recommended in his own budget proposal. "I'd say the governor has done pretty well," said Janet Bowman with The Nature Conservancy, a conservation group. There are some high-profile issues that are still unresolved with time running out for legislators. Lawmakers have not come up with a final proposal on pay raises for state workers. They also have not said exa ctly how they plan to parcel out $480 million for teacher pay raises. Scott wants a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise but lawmakers have said they wish to link the raises to teacher performance.