Gov. Bush announces budget

Gov. Jeb Bush proposed his state budget on Tuesday, outlining several facets of the state’s fiscal future. Included in the budget was the governor’s plan for the state university system. Overall, Bush would increase spending on most programs in the state and would still have room for $285 million in tax cuts, due to a rebounding economy and a post-hurricane jump in tax collections.

“I believe this is a commonsense budget based on sound conservative principles,” Bush said to reporters in a press conference.

In education, funds will be increased across the board, based on an estimated statewide enrollment growth of 7,292 students in the state university system. A tuition increase is in the near future if the budget is approved by the state Legislature in March. The university system will receive a 40.4 percent increase, or $119 million, $61.6 million will be provided from a tuition increase. If approved, in-state undergraduate students could expect to see a 7.5 percent tuition increase. For USF, this means prices would increase to $110.82 per credit hour.

“Those who don’t have Bright Futures or work full time could be hurt by this increase, because 7.5 percent adds up,” said Bijal Chhadva, student body president. “Student Government over the years has lobbied against (tuition increase); we’re going to be making three trips to Tallahassee this year.”

Michelle Carlyon, director of media relations, said the USF Board of Trustees is examining the governor’s budget recommendations.

“It seems that the governor’s intent is to offer flexibility (regarding tuition), which we appreciate,” Carlyon said. “We haven’t run all the numbers yet, but the board is going to review it further in a meeting next week.”

The current credit-hour price is $103.09. For a standard full-time undergraduate taking 12 credit hours, Gov. Bush’s recommendation would cost an extra $92.76 a semester.

Florida Bright Futures scholars can breathe a sigh of relief if the current budget is passed. With the amount allocated, Bright Futures will be adequately funded. Chhadva added that the governor has recommended the funding for Bright Futures be about $313 million.

“Our goals are to see that Bright Futures is still fully funded. The governor has proposed a budget that is good enough to fund Bright Futures but ultimately it is the state Legislature’s decision,” Chhadva said.

Along with the tuition hike, it was recommended that individual Boards of Trustees be granted full flexibility regarding out-of-state and graduate tuition. This could dissuade out-of-state students from attending due to climbing tuition rates.

“Our university prides itself in its research, the (research programs) have $290 million and a lot of that is because of our graduate students,” Chhadva said. “Even the BOT is given flexibility over in-state graduate tuition. If they can set any price they want, then that creates a real problem,” Chhadva said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.