The first budget confrontation of the legislative session emerged Tuesday when Gov. Rick Scott declared his opposition to an 8 percent tuition increase at state colleges and universities that Republican lawmakers support.
"I don't believe in tuition hikes," Scott said."We have to do what the private sector has done and what every family has done and that's tighten our belts ... That's the first thing I want to focus on, is how we can reduce our costs rather than how do we raise tuition."
The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday is expected to vote out a preliminary budget of $69.2 billion that includes an 8 percent tuition hike -- the same as in the current year's budget, which Scott signed into law last May without objecting to a tuition hike.
Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, who chairs the House budget panel, issued a statement defending the House's support for a tuition hike. "The cost of postsecondary education in Florida is almost the lowest in the nation at an average of $5,531," Grimsley said. "Allowing tuition increases helps keep Florida nationally competitive."
Grimsley said Florida ranks 45th out of 50 states in the cost of undergraduate tuition, now about $184 per credit hour or $5,531 for a full year of 30 credit hours. The 8 percent increase to base tuition by the Legislature last year totaled $7.65 per credit hour. The universities tacked on another 7 percent to make a $9.16 hike, or $275.10 for a full year of 30 credits.
The Senate has not yet prepared its budget, but support for a tuition increase exists there too. Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, who chairs the budget subcommittee on higher education, disagreed with Scott.
"I have great concern because we're cutting back on dollars, and education has been cutting back every single year for the last four years now, and to come one more year where we have to reduce money and say 'no tuition increases' is very difficult," Lynn said.
Tuition has increased every year for the past six years in Florida.
-- Steve Bousquet and Kim Wilmath