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Weatherford says House will restore university cuts

Last year, Florida's universities were told the $300 million cut from their operating budgets would be restored for 2013-2014. Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget gives state universities just $118 million in new operating dollars and another $167 million in performance funding.

House Speaker Will Weatherford told the Times/Herald today that he plans to fully restore the $300 million to the state universities with no strings attached. He said he told his budget committee chairman to return the money without strings attached.

"I have directed our Aprops chair to restore the $300 million as it was taken," Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican, said. "So if you were (University of South Florida) and you lost $47 million in the sweep, you should be getting that $47 million back."

The state university system, which consists of 12 schools, has said it would not raise tuition this year if the Legislature restores the $300 million cut and adds another $118 million in performance funding. It's too soon to say if the House's budget will go that far, Weatherford said.

Scott's budget proposal also set aside $15 million is to help the University of Florida improve its national rankings. Weatherford said the House is open to special funding for UF, but he's a proponent of the latest pre-eminence legislation -- a committee bill currently known as HEWS 13-01 --  that requires schools to meet certain benchmarks to receive special treatment. As it's written, University of Florida would likely be named the state's preeminent research institution.

"They qualified for the pre-eminence, so we think that's a better way for them to earn the $15 million as opposed to just giving it to them," Weatherford said, before adding he'd leave that decision to the chairmen of the House's education policy and funding committees.