Rick Scott says Charlie Crist let college tuition increase up to 15 percent every year

Education spending is a weapon of choice for both sides of the battle lines in this year’s Florida gubernatorial election. This time around, Gov. Rick Scott is again lobbing an incendiary charge at his presumptive Democratic challenger.

“Charlie Crist allowed college tuition to increase up to 15 percent every year,” Scott’s political committee Let’s Get to Work said in a statewide campaign ad, which launched June 2, 2014. It then goes on to say Scott repealed the increase.

This attack is worded a bit differently from a claim we checked a couple months ago and found Mostly False. Let’s check the report card on this one again.

Scott for Florida told us the commercial refers to the 2009 plan to set tuition rates for Florida universities.

Before Crist took office in 2007, the state Legislature set undergraduate rates with no cap on how much the price could go up. The university system’s Board of Governors set graduate and out-of-state rates, capped at 15 percent. That system changed later that year, when the Legislature let the largest state research universities raise rates up 15 percent per year.

Crist opposed raising tuition in 2007, and vetoed a 5 percent increase set by lawmakers. He reversed himself later that year, and the 5 percent hike took effect.

The Legislature’s increase was 6 percent in 2008, with the state’s five largest universities getting additional tuition bumps. Crist signed that year’s budget without challenging the changes.

But in 2009, the Legislature approved a new plan that allowed the Board of Governors to raise undergraduate tuition rates past whatever the Legislature approved. As long as the total increase didn’t exceed 15 percent per year, they were allowed to do this until tuition reached the national average, which was $8,893 in 2012-13. Crist advocated for this plan, and signed off on it when the Legislature approved it. That’s the basis of the ad’s attack.

At the time, universities argued the system needed to raise tuition to pay for scholarships, keep top professors and compete with other states. (Florida was 45th in tuition costs in 2011, and 43rd by 2013.) The need only increased after the Legislature starting slashing post-secondary education funding following the Great Recession, some university officials argued.

How did the process work? Stick with us here. It’s a little complicated, because under tuition differential rules, both the Legislature and the Board of Governors had a role in raising tuition.

The Legislature set its base tuition increase each year (it would go up by the rate of inflation if no budget action was taken). Then individual universities would ask the Board of Governors for another increase, called tuition differential. Those two numbers, the base increase and the differential, couldn’t add up to more than 15 percent. It can be less, but has been 15 percent a few times -- notably when both Crist and Scott were governor.

The governor could veto the Legislature’s increase, but not the Board of Governors increase. He appoints the Board’s members, but has no official say in their decisions.

Scott definitely used his veto power to stop the Legislature in 2013, but it was his influence on the Board of Governors that kept last year’s hike so low. The governor may not be able to veto the board, but he certainly can express an opinion to its members, which he did.

Now that we’ve gone through all this for purposes of fact-checking the ad, you can forget about it for future tuition increases: The entire tuition differential process was scrapped by the Legislature during the 2014 session as part of a bill allowing children of illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition. Now automatic tuition increases are gone, even for inflation; the Legislature can vote for one, and only the University of Florida and Florida State can lobby the Board for a differential increase, up to a maximum of 6 percent.

Our ruling

Scott for Florida’s new ad about education costs said, “Charlie Crist allowed college tuition to increase up to 15 percent every year.”

Tuition did go up 15 percent in 2009 and 2010. But the ad downplays the fact that tuition increased 5 and 6 percent the two years prior to that. (It also neglects to mention it went up 15 percent under Gov. Scott one year, as well.)

We should also note that Crist wasn’t the only actor here. The Legislature approved increases, as did the state Board of Governors.

Still, tuition did go up each year, and as high as 15 percent for two years. We rate the statement Mostly True.