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Scott says new revenue means tuition can stay flat

By Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

Rosy budget numbers are prompting a new push by Gov. Rick Scott to hold down tuition at state universities.

In his first statement on new revenue figures released last week, Scott on Monday highlighted both his $500 million tax-cut proposal and the possibility of continuing to push for level tuition at state schools.

"Additionally, we are confident that we will be able to hold the line on tuition for another year, as we encourage colleges and universities to graduate students in high-demand job areas by again investing in targeted performance funding," Scott said. "Performance funding for higher education means we will reward those schools who graduate students with degrees that help them start a career."

Scott's insistence on holding down the rising costs of a college education has rankled some university presidents.

The governor vetoed a 3 percent tuition hike at state colleges and universities in this year's budget and pressured universities not to take advantage of a section of state law that seemed to provide for an automatic increase tied to inflation.

The House pushed for a tuition increase in negotiations for this year's spending plan, but a spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said in an email Monday that it was "too early to know for sure" whether the chamber would look for another boost in the budget year beginning July 1.

Last week, state economic forecasters added $324.3 million to expected tax revenues during the current budget year, which ends June 30, and the fiscal year that begins the next day.

Lawmakers were already expected to have a windfall of $845.7 million next year, even after anticipated spending in areas like education and $1 billion in reserves was taken into account.

The new estimates would push that close to $1.2 billion, though a firm number likely won't be available until after meetings this week to determine whether public schools and health-care programs will need more money.

Scott also used his statement Monday to push for his election year plan to reduce taxes and fees by $500 million in some combination.

"Florida's improved economic forecast means we are in an even better position to give $500 million in taxes and fees back to Florida families," he said. "After all, it's their money."

Scott has not released details on his plan. Democrats have argued that the state can't afford both the tax cuts and increased spending on schools.

"Voters deserve to know just how much education funding will suffer because the Governor wants a new talking point for his reelection campaign," Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant said in September.

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