Florida Governor Crist Signs $1.1B Budget Cut Plan; OKs Tuition Increase

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.

Gov. Charlie Crist has made final $1.1 billion in state budget cuts but he did so grudgingly and without fanfare.

Crist fixed his signature Friday to the budget revision bills sent to him two weeks ago by the Legislature. They enact tuition increases at public universities and colleges and cuts to the state’s water supply projects, among other things.

“Though fully aware of the state’s revenue projections and the need to reduce expenditures, I have specific concerns with some of the reductions,” Crist said in a letter accompanying the bills. “I want all concerned parties to understand that piecemeal approaches to our higher education system are unacceptable to me.”

Lagging home sales and a sagging economy forced lawmakers into a special session earlier this month to deal with a $1.1 billion budget shortfall in the state’s $71 billion plan.

Health care for the poor is among the areas suffering the biggest cuts in the revised budget. Programs that serve Medicaid patients lose $233.8 million; nursing homes that care for them lose another $164.5 million.

Crist reversed his earlier position, signing a bill that allows state universities and community colleges to raise tuition by 5 percent beginning in January.

The governor had vetoed a similar increase in the spring, but said he did not attempt to veto this time because he believes residents are being provided with other financial relief. He said he also expects at least 30 percent of the tuition increase to be used for financial aid.

The increase will amount to a $55 boost for university students taking 15 credit hours in the spring semester and about $29 for community college students taking 12 credit hours.

The bill will also let universities impose a technology fee up to 5 percent of the tuition beginning in the fall of 2009.

Still, some higher education officials said the increases did not go far enough.

“We understand the state is in a difficult situation and this 5 percent, while helpful, is not going to make that much of a difference on the bottom line until we get a better handle funding education in this state,” said David Mann, director of governmental affairs for the University of West Florida, where hiring and spending freezes are in effect.

An alliance of business groups and environmentalists failed to convince Crist to veto a $30 million reduction in the state’s alternative water supply programs.

“I don’t care what you cut in the budget, but it should not be water. We have drought, we have shortages, we have water wars starting,” said Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland. “This is the very last place we should cut.”

The Associated Press



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