Presidents ask for more money

Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 at 1:04 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE - Florida's university presidents unveiled their 2004 wish list to state lawmakers on Tuesday, asking for more money, more control and the ability to levy new fees.

Five presidents, including newly installed University of Florida President Bernie Machen, appeared before a legislative budget committee, asking that lawmakers give them enough money in the coming year to pay for increasing numbers of students heading to the state's 11 public universities.

University leaders and the Florida Board of Governors are asking for $2.1 billion - an increase of nearly $180 million over the current budget year. Most of that request - $82.1 million - is to cover the cost of nearly 20,000 students that either entered universities this year or are expected next fall. Last year, legislators cut university budgets and did not give them extra money for enrollment.

But university presidents, as they have in years past, also asked that lawmakers grant university boards of trustees greater power over setting tuition, although they have agreed to cap any tuition increases at 15 percent a year for undergraduate students.

University presidents also want the authority to charge students a technology fee and to raise two student fees used to pay for construction projects by $1 per credit hour or $30 a year for a full-time student.

University presidents said they want to change state law so that university boards of trustees can name buildings after people who are still living. Currently only the Legislature has that power.

House Republicans for the past two years have blocked a bill naming a handful of buildings on university campuses because Florida State University wanted to honor former Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton, by naming an entrance pavilion to the Ringling Museum after him. McKay pushed the transfer of Ringling to FSU but he clashed with House leaders during his two years as president.

University of Central Florida President John Hitt pointed out that community colleges already have the ability to name buildings after people who are still alive.

''University boards of trustees should not be treated any differently than community college boards,'' Hitt said.

Machen, who started his job earlier this month, said he supported the spending and legislative requests, saying that lawmakers have far more control over universities than in many other states.

''The amount of control exerted by the state bureaucracy over all the universities exceeds anything I've seen,'' Machen said.

Tuesday's appearance before a legislative committee is an annual rite of spring for university presidents. But it also marks the start of a marathon for university leaders that won't end until late April, when lawmakers are expected to pass the annual state budget.

How well university presidents will fare this coming year is still unclear. Rep. Bev Kilmer, R-Quincy and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said she planned to draw up a bill granting universities the ability to name buildings.

And Rep. David Simmons, R-Longwood and chairman of the House Education Appropriations Committee, said he supported giving some additional power or ''flexibility'' to universities. ''We need to permit our universities to experiment and achieve,'' Simmons said.

But Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey and chairwoman of the Senate budget subcommittee on education, said she had not yet seen the university spending requests and could not predict how well they would fare this session.

University presidents on Tuesday did discuss a proposal to alter Bright Futures scholarships with House members - but they and leading House Republicans conceded that legislators were unlikely to adopt any major revisions this year. Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, vowed to fight changes to the popular college scholarship program.

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