Scott pushing for freezes in student fees
Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott is putting pressure on Florida's public universities to hold down fees charged to students, making it a condition for two universities seeking state approval for construction projects on their campuses.
Scott indicated Tuesday he refused to go along with granting bonding approval for the projects at Florida State University and Florida International University until the schools agreed to keep costs down for students.
In one instance, the Republican governor said he extracted a promise from Florida International to freeze a transportation access fee for six years as a prelude to winning bonding approval for a new parking garage on FIU's campus in West Miami-Dade County. The fee is paid by every student, including those walking or cycling to class, he said.
"It's the right thing to do," Scott said of the fee freeze during a meeting of the Florida Cabinet at the Capitol.
Asked if he was imposing a new prerequisite for campus bonding projects, Scott replied, "We're doing it on this one."
The Cabinet, which Scott leads, voted to authorize the issuance of $33.5 million in bonding to finance construction of the FIU parking garage.
It also approved bonding authority to build a new dormitory at Florida State University, after the Cabinet was told the school won't require freshmen to live on campus.
Scott has been critical of double-digit tuition increases in recent years at Florida's public universities. On Tuesday, he criticized the budget passed by the GOP-led House for including a 6 percent tuition hike as part of the plan to fund the state's public university system.
As legislators have cut state spending in recent years, the universities have responded by raising tuition. Last year lawmakers cut university budgets by $300 million.
"Florida families can't afford it," said Scott, who is gearing up for his re-election campaign next year.
The Cabinet meeting became a forum for Scott to expand his sights to student fees in his effort to clamp down on college costs. Tuition hikes remain one of the issues that the House and Senate are still divided on with just days left in the annual session.
Steve Sauls, FIU's vice president for governmental operations, acknowledged that Florida International agreed to the six-year freeze on its transportation fee at the request of the governor's office.
He said that the project is important to deal with parking needs on the campus in West Miami-Dade County.
Top administrators at FIU and FSU had expressed their willingness to hold down student costs in recent letters leading up to the Cabinet review of the construction projects.
FIU President Mark Rosenberg wrote that his school supports Scott's efforts to hold down higher education costs.
"As such, we have revised our capital plans to take out a second parking garage and reduced expenses to eliminate the need to increase the transportation access fee paid by our students," he said in a letter to Ban Watkins, director of the Florida Division of Bond Finance.
Rosenberg said the school won't raise the transportation access fee for the next six years unless an increase is needed to maintain FIU's bond rating or to comply with bond covenants.
If such an "extraordinary situation" occurred, he said, FIU would consult with the governor's office and the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's university system.
In its letter to Watkins, FSU said, "We will not be implementing a mandatory housing requirement nor are meal plans required for students living in these halls."
FSU offered assurances that it can handle bonding obligations through rental payments from students living on campus.
"There is no need nor do we plan to impose any fees on the non-resident general student body to support our housing operations," wrote Mary Coburn, FSU's vice president for student affairs.