Gov. Bush’s budget calls for tuition increase

If the budget proposal announced by Gov. Jeb Bush on Jan. 20 is passed, students can expect yet another tuition increase next fall, even though the proposal included increased funding for higher education.

Bush recommended that for the 2004-05 fiscal year an additional $144 million be allocated within the state’s public universities, an increase of 5.7 percent from last year.

In 2003, Bush recommended a $111-million budget cut for higher education. Bush said he hoped that the increase in funds would help replenish the money lost in last year’s budget cuts.

The additional money allocated to higher education is coming from students, because Florida’s 11 public universities are looking at a mandated 7.5 percent tuition increase for in-state students and 12.5 percent increase for out-of-state and graduate students. The increase is 1 percent less than the tuition hike the Board of Trustees approved last fall.

Michael Reich, director of media relations at USF, said the governor’s proposal is just a starting point of discussion for the House and Senate to look at when the legislative session begins in March.

Reich added that the mandated tuition increase is one issue that USF President Judy Genshaft and the administration will look at and discuss more when lobbying the Legislature.

“The bad thing about mandating tuition increases is that we can’t control it here,” Reich said. “We want to be able to control it here instead of having the increase allocated through Tallahassee.”

In a perfect world, Reich said, tuition increases are put into place when the university wants to enhance programs and make improvements to the university, and the increase helps pay for those issues. However, Reich said, last year, the Board of Trustees issued a tuition increase because it was needed to compensate for the budget cuts.

“This year it is going to be harder because of the governor’s mandate,” Reich said. “But we will have to wait and see what the House and the Senate come up with.”

If the Legislature keeps the governor’s proposal, it will be the ninth consecutive year that university students would be faced with a tuition increase.

Other priorities for the administration in the 2004-05 budget are more funding for enrollment growth and completing the construction in the Health Sciences Center, Reich said.

In addition, Reich said, Bush allocated $25 million in Matching Gifts Program, which matches donations made to the university. The program suffered last year due to the budget cuts, Reich said.

Genshaft is planning on lobbying for better funding again this year, Reich said.

“We have a legislative team that is going back and forth to Tallahassee, and the president will be traveling up there frequently as well once the session starts,” he said.

Bush recommended a total state budget of $55.4 billion for the 2004-05 fiscal year that will start in July.