In a swift vote by the Florida Board of Governors on Thursday morning, all state universities’ proposed Capital Improvement Trust Fund (CITF) fee increases were vetoed for the 2013-14 school year.
“Not seeing the fees go up is a good day for students,” Jean Cocco, a junior majoring in political science and international studies and Student Government chairman for the senate committee on University, Community and Government Affairs, said.
Students pay CITF fees per-credit hour each semester to pay for student facilities, which do not currently receive any state tax dollars to pay for the projects. Of the 12 schools in the State University System, eight requested an increase to the fee for the upcoming school year, including USF.
USF proposed the fee to be raised by $1.24, previously set at $6.76 per credit hour, putting the fee at an even $8 per credit hour. Without the proposed increase being approved, the fee will generate approximately $5.1 million a year that will then go toward student proposed projects.
If the fee increase had been approved, the total amount of money generated for the projects at USF would have been approximately $7 million without bonding. The total cost for all USF CITF-funded projects is estimated at $19.9 million.
The money will be used on renovations to the Marshall Student Center, the Tampa campus Library and Wellness facilities. Also planned for CITF funding use is the creation of a Student Union Annex in the USF College of Health.
Cocco said the fee increase being denied is also a “double-edged sword,” because the funding for these projects will still have to be gathered somehow.
“It puts more money in our pockets,” Cocco said. “But at the same time, the university still needs funds to help projects when the state isn’t providing that much funding from the get-go.”
Chris Kinsley, director of finance and facilities for the BOG, said the fee increase would go to projects that students have voted to see happen.
“The students so desperately want to take the Library, and make it into more study space,” Kinsley said. “The shame of being here in June is that you don’t see the building as I’ve seen it, where students are literally lining the walls looking for any nook and cranny to study.”
The increase to the fee was previously approved by the USF Board of Trustees last February, but raised concerns with many members of the BOG due to the projects funded by CITF fees being unable to begin until the 2014-15 school year at the earliest.
“In either case, the students will not see an immediate benefit from a fee increase,” Kinsley said. “The benefit would come in subsequent years.”
BOG member Alan Levine said the state is in a period of time where there is a huge reluctance to add debt, and because of this, he is unsure if universities should be relying on bonds and raising fees on students to fund these projects.
“What I’m seeing is this movement towards raising fees and to store away cash, or to begin projects without being able to fully fund them,” Levine said. “And I don’t think that’s the best policy.”
Skepticism was also raised in part due to the idea that students who are currently paying the fees would not see the benefits or the completion of the projects they are paying for.
Governor Ned Lautenbach said while these projects are necessary, he isn’t in support of the fee increase because it would simply be another fee increase on the students in a time that Florida is seeing a rise in the cost of education.
“The fact that faculty and students and administrations all voted for it show (the projects) are needed,” Lautenbach said. “But it seems wrong when we can’t fund these, as Governor Levine said, with bonding, and that we should lay this all on the backs of the students, especially since they probably won’t receive the benefits.”
Carlo Fassi, chairman for the Florida Student Association and a student at the University of North Florida, said he was fully supported the proposed fee increases because they reflect projects that the students have voted for, and which students see to be a necessary.
“We’re taxing ourselves,” Fassi said. “We’ve all unanimously approved these fee increases, and I don’t foresee any reason why to vote these fee increases down.” 12