TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Florida Gov. Rick Scott is strongly warning universities that he will fight against any tuition hikes this year.
Scott made the warning in a letter sent out Friday to the heads of the boards that oversee the state's 12 public universities. He urged university boards to join him in a "worthy battle" to keep tuition rates flat.
"I want to be clear on this: we absolutely will fight to hold the line on tuition in Florida," Scott writes. "This would be a tax increase on our families that must be stopped. We don't want a three percent increase or even a one percent increase in tuition on our students."
The letter could be seen as a prelude to a legal challenge that could draw in the Legislature.
The governor on Monday vetoed a 3 percent hike for the state's universities and colleges included in this year's budget that was worth nearly $50 million.
That hike was pushed primarily by the Florida House and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. The House initially approved a 6 percent hike, but agreed to the lower amount during budget negotiations with the Senate.
Weatherford argued in favor of the tuition hike by noting that the state is ranked 41st in the nation in tuition rates for university students.
The average cost for an undergraduate is $6,232 a year.
Despite the veto, tuition could still go up for those students who attend state universities such as University of Florida or Florida State University.
That's because university boards have the power to raise tuition as much as 15 percent a year regardless of legislative action. So far it appears unlikely that university boards would go along with that large of an increase.
A separate law, however, mandates that tuition goes up automatically by the rate of inflation is there is no increase in the budget. That means that tuition could still go up 1.7 percent this fall and generate more than $10 million.
That law, however, is silent on what happens if the governor vetoes the hike. The Scott administration maintained earlier this week that the law is vague.
There have been ongoing discussions among lawyers involving the Legislature, the governor's office and the state university system about how to interpret the law. The Board of Governors— which oversees the state university system — has not yet publicly taken a stance.
But a May 7 email from a top official in the Board of Governors to the governor's office maintains the automatic increase only kicks in if the state budget was "silent" on tuition.
Weatherford, however, maintains that the law does allow automatic tuition increases regardless of Scott's veto.
"''I believe the law is very clear, but I also know that when you get three attorneys in a room, you get a half dozen opinions," Weatherford said in a statement.
He added that he believes in keeping "the cost of living down" but "at the same time we want our students to receive a valuable education that will translate into a good job and better way of life."
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