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Graham worries that tuition hike could become another 'bait and switch'

Support for Gov. Charlie Crist's announcement today to allow universities to raise tuition 15 percent a year to reach the national average seems to be getting its support along party lines. While House Speaker Ray Sansom and Senate President Jeff Atwater remained positive but non-commital, Bright Futures protector Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, likes it.

“I am proud to stand with Gov. Crist in support of this proposal that will boost the quality of our higher education system in Florida," said Pruitt (the new majority leader?) in a statement out of the Senate Republican office. "I truly believe this plan will succeed because it is motivated by a heart for our students and their success.”

Former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham, however, is not feeling too warm and fuzzy about the plan. Graham, a Democrat who has sued to keep the Legislature out of the higher education system, said state lawmkers have no place in this debate because voters approved a constitutional amendment transferring oversight to the university system's Board of Governors.

Graham also suggested he didn't trust the Legislature, which has a bad track record of bait-and-switching taxpayers over education. “I’m just concerned that the increase isn’t part of a larger strategy to reverse this decline we’ve seen in the last 20 years in higher education,'' he said. "It could become almost a narcotic to cover up the real problems by shifting more of the total cost of education to students while the state does not keep up it’s end of the bargain.”

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee blasted the idea and urged the governor to rethink his position which, he noted, is a reversal of his previous stances for the past two years.

“This move puts higher education even further out of reach,” Lawson said. “Florida ranks among the highest for foreclosures, job loss, and bankruptcies. Dumping tuition hikes into the laps of students and their families is the wrong move at the wrong time.  It’s the latest in a long line of bad moves shifting the state’s funding obligations down to the people, and the people are suffering enough.”