Gov. Rick Scott Scott says Floridians should be proud to keep tuition low. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO
By GARY FINEOUT, The Associated Press
Published: May 19, 2013
Updated: May 20, 2013 at 07:07 AM
Gov. Rick Scott, who has maintained a steadfast opposition in the last year to raising the cost of college for students, will veto a proposed 3 percent tuition hike. Despite the governor's earlier warnings the Republican-led Florida Legislature included the hike in a $74.5 billion budget passed earlier this month. Scott planned to sign the budget into law on Monday, but he is expected to veto numerous spending items, including the proposed tuition hike. The hike was expected to generate close to $50 million for the state's public universities and 28 colleges. The University of South Florida had planned to raise tuition between 1.9 percent and 3.7 percent at its Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses. In a copy of his veto message first obtained by The Associated Press, Scott writes that Floridians should be "proud to keep tuition low."
Scott pointed out that he had to work while he was in college in order to pay for it and said students should be able to graduate and get a job without being burdened by “massive debt.” “Higher education is one of the best ways we can (help) Floridians to get a great job,” Scott wrote. “It is also one of the best ways we can provide every family the opportunity to pursue their dreams, regardless of where they start in life ... Therefore I believe it is incumbent upon state leaders to ensure the cost of higher education remains accessible to as many Floridians as possible.” Work groups of the USF Board of Trustees were to consider a proposal this week that would set in-state tuition and fees for 2013-14 at $6,491 on the Tampa campus, an increase of 2.5 percent. Tuition at the St. Petersburg campus was to increase 3.7 percent to $5,925 and at the Sarasota-Manatee campus it was to increase 1.9 percent to $5,632. A USF spokeswoman said last week the proposal would have to be re-evaluated in the event of a veto. Scott has been critical of rising tuition costs for the last year. He vetoed a bill back in 2012 that would have allowed both the University of Florida and Florida State University to raise tuition rates above the current 15 percent a year cap. The governor did not include any tuition hikes in the budget recommendations he gave legislators earlier this year. But House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, pushed for a tuition hike despite Scott's opposition. He justified it by pointing out that the state university tuition rates remain among the lowest in the nation. In a statement Weatherford said Sunday that the “rumor that the governor will veto tuition increases tomorrow is not a surprise.” He said he looked forward to working with university presidents and other officials to move the state university system “forward to the benefit of our students.” Scott's actions, however, may not completely spare students attending one of the state's 11 public universities. A separate law states that if legislators do not increase tuition in the annual state budget than it automatically increases for state universities by the rate of inflation. That would amount to a 1.7 percent hike this fall. That law, however, is silent on what happens if the governor vetoes the hike included in the budget. Universities are also allowed to raise tuition above any rate set by the Legislature as long as it does not exceed 15 percent. That is viewed as a long-shot, however, because those hikes have to be approved by the Florida Board of Governors. Scott has remade the board in the past few months with new appointments. And in his veto message Scott included quotes from top higher education officials who supported his decision to veto the tuition hike. University of Florida President Bernie Machen said that since lawmakers provided a “badly needed funding increase" his institution would not be seeking a tuition increase. UF was given additional money as part of legislation that designates it a “pre-eminent university.” David Armstrong, president of Broward College, stated: “We are confident we can hold down the student cost to attend college and continue to provide excellent quality and expansion of services to support student success.” There are legal questions about whether Scott even has the power to veto the tuition hike because of the way lawmakers authorized it. The money for the tuition hike is embedded in large sums set aside for colleges and universities. Lawmakers then wrote a budget provision that sets the tuition amount 3 percent higher. Scott is vetoing this provision even though the state constitution says the governor “may not veto any qualification or restriction” included in the budget without vetoing the money attached to it. Former Gov. Charlie Crist back in 2007 also vetoed a proposed tuition hike. Yet despite questions about his authority, the veto stood because no one challenged it in court.