TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott continued to pound against university tuition increases on Friday, saying in a column published on a conservative news website that raising tuition is the same as raising taxes.
“We owe it to the families in our state who are paying tuition today and those planning to pay tuition for the next generation of Floridians to be direct: Raising tuition is a tax increase,” Scott wrote in the National Review Online. “And, unfortunately, it is a tax increase that directly affects whether Floridians can achieve the American dream of earning a higher-education diploma.”
If true, count Scott among the tax raisers.
While Scott proudly vetoed a 3 percent tuition hike last month, his 2011 budget included an 8 percent hike for students, at a cost of roughly $50 million. Scott also approved a 5 percent tuition increase for state colleges in 2012, saying that “colleges remain best positioned to weigh the needs of their institutions against the burden of increased student costs.”
When asked Friday about the discrepancies between his recent words and his past actions, Scott blamed the Legislature. He said the 2011 tuition increase was also included in a second, broader bill that the governor was reluctant to veto.
He said he would veto the same bill if it appeared on his desk today.
“For nearly three years, I have watched the Legislature aggressively fight to increase tuition on our families,” Scott said in a statement to the Herald/Times. “If this bill were in front of me today, I would veto it. If the Legislature tries to do this maneuver next year, I will veto it.”
Scott’s seeming tuition about-face is the latest in a string of shifting policy statements. Already, Scott has offered differing positions on everything from his support for Medicaid expansion to money for public schools to voting rules to tightening immigration laws.
The change in rhetoric is all about getting reelected in 2014, said Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.
“He’s not governing; he’s campaigning and using the budget and using policy to campaign on,” Smith said.
Lawmakers included 8 percent tuition increases in the budget in 2009 and 2010 and sought another 8 percent hike in 2011. But it was the first time the decision fell to Scott, who took office in January 2011.
Months before signing the budget, Scott said universities deserved more flexibility in setting tuition, considering that Florida’s tuition rates are among the cheapest in the country.
“There’s two sides to it. Step one, we have to make sure we don’t waste dollars and keep tuition as low as possible,” Scott said in March 2011. “The other side is we’ve got to make sure we have the dollars in our system so we can have the best professors, the best system. It’s both sides.”
After signing the tuition increase into law, Scott tried to distance himself from it.
In November 2011, Scott’s then-spokesman Brian Burgess issued a memo saying the governor had nothing to do with the 8 percent increase. The memo came after some news outlets reported students were protesting “Gov. Rick Scott’s college tuition increase.”
Burgess claimed Scott did not have the constitutional authority to veto the tuition increase in the budget. But Scott did just that this year.