The Florida Supreme Court unanimously rejected an argument that would have allowed the Board of Governors to set tuition rates without limits, saying the Legislature could restrain the board or even set the rates itself.
The ruling in the case, Graham v. Haridopolos, resolves a key question about the board’s power under the 2002 constitutional amendment that created the panel, replacing the Board of Regents. Former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham had argued that the BOG could set tuition rates without interference from lawmakers.
But writing for the majority, Justice Barbara Pariente said the Legislature’s authority to control how state money is spent was tied to the ability to raise money to pay for those expenses -- including tuition.
"Nothing within the language of article IX, section 7, of the Florida Constitution indicates an intent to transfer this quintessentially legislative power to the Board of Governors," Pariente wrote.
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Her opinion was joined by Justices Peggy Quince, Jorge Labarga and James Perry. Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justices Charles Canady and Fred Lewis agreed with the result of the decision but didn’t necessarily adopt its reasoning.
Labarga also wrote a brief concurring opinion that he said was meant to emphasize that the Legislature also faced limits on its authority.
"The power to attach contingencies to funds appropriated to the university system may not be employed to impair the constitutional authority of the Board to operate and manage the university system," he wrote.
The court case had been a flashpoint between the Legislature and the board, which was originally a part of the lawsuit but dropped out after reaching a separate deal with lawmakers.
The Legislature has granted the board more power in recent years, most notably through the state’s “differential tuition” law, which allows increases of up to 15 percent, but with a limit on how that money can be used.
The ruling also comes amid a renewed focus on tuition, with Gov. Rick Scott focusing on lowering the cost of higher education at the same time that some legislative leaders have endorsed the idea of allowing tuition to rise at research universities.