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Will Weatherford: We can do better than Gov. Rick Scott's proposed higher ed budget


House Speaker Will Weatherford believes that state universities deserve more funding, pushing for a tuition increase last year over the objections of Gov. Rick Scott who vetoed the measure.

There appears to be a difference in opinion again this year, with Weatherford saying he doesn't think Scott's budget proposal included enough money for the 12 public universities. "I think we can do better than what the governor suggested, but it was a good starting point," the Wesley Chapel Republican told the Times/Herald on Tuesday.

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 recommended $80 million for performance pay with half of that being new funding.

"Ideally, I think we can do better than $40 million worth of performance funding, and I think we can do more that what the governor suggested with regard to capital outlay," Weatherford said.

Scott's budget, which he unveiled last week, also includes $84 million for universities facilities projects: $34 million for maintenance, repair, renovation and remodeling of existing buildings and $50 million for construction projects specifically tied to science, technology, math and engineering.

The Board of Governors is lobbying the state for almost four times that amount: $321 million. 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.

Weatherford agrees there is a critical need.

"We have a lot of buildings under construction we need to finish, but more importantly we have a lot of old buildings that have serious renovation issues," he said. "And if you go to a lot of our universities like I have done, you'll walk through some old buildings that have major problems."