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Weatherford, Gaetz propose lower cap on tuition hikes; Scott outlines higher ed budget


Calling it an effort to reduce the burden on the state's prepaid tuition program, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have proposed limits on future tuition increases.

They would accomplish this by capping the tuition differential that state universities are allowed to request from the Florida Board of Governors. Under current law, the universities can requested additional tuition increases beyond whatever is approved by the Legislature as long as the total net increase does not exceed 15 percent.

During the economic downturn, many universities requested and were approved for tuition differential up to the 15-percent cap.

With Gov. Rick Scott's opposition to tuition increases well known, that has become less of an issue in recent years. Last year, tuition was held flat and no universities asked for any differential. A few also went so far as to reject a 1.7 percent tuition increase tied to inflation per state law, but most did not.

This morning, Scott also outlined his higher education budget proposal for 2014-2015. It reflect far less money than what the Board of Governors requested, and state universities are likely to continue lobbying the Legislature for more money.

The Board of Governors requested $100 million for performance funding. They wanted half of that, or $50 million, to be in new money. Instead, Scott is recommending $20 milion less: $40 million in new funding for a total of $80 million.

Scott's budget also includes $84 million for universities facilities. It breaks down like this: $34 million for maintenance, repair, renovation and remodeling projects, $50 million for construction projects specifically tied to science, technology, math and engineering education at public universities.

The Board of Governors is lobbying the state for $321 million in facilities funding. The universities say they need that money to address the needs of aging buildings and to finish projects that have already been approved but not fully funded.

State university system Chancellor Marshall Criser III says these discussions will continue as the Legislature finalizes the budget, but he understands that lawmakers have to juggle lots of priorities and responsibilities.

"I believe that the governor and the Legislature will continue to have that conversation," Criser said. "And we will advocate why higher education is an important part of that process as we continue to create a balanced budget."