TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) – With the stroke of a pen, Governor Rick Scott signed the 2013-2014 $74.5 billion budget into law on Monday.

He also announced that he used his line item veto power to nix a three percent tuition increase for university students.

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Scott pointed out that he had to work while he was in college in order to pay for it and said students should be able to graduate and get a job without being burdened by “massive debt.”

“Higher education is one of the best ways we can Floridians to get a great job,” Scott wrote. “It is also one of the best ways we can provide every family the opportunity to pursue their dreams, regardless of where they start in life … Therefore I believe it is incumbent upon state leaders to ensure the cost of higher education remains accessible to as many Floridians as possible.”

Scott has been critical of rising tuition costs for the last year. He vetoed a bill back in 2012 that would have allowed both the University of Florida and Florida State University to raise tuition rates above the current 15 percent a year cap.

The governor did not include any tuition hikes in the budget recommendations he gave legislators earlier this year.

But House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, pushed for a tuition hike despite Scott’s opposition. He justified it by pointing out that the state university tuition rates remain among the lowest in the nation. The hike was expected to generate close to $50 million for the state’s public universities and 28 colleges.

In a statement Weatherford said Sunday that the “rumor that the governor will veto tuition increases tomorrow is not a surprise.” He said he looked forward to working with university presidents and other officials to move the state university system “forward to the benefit of our students.”

Scott’s actions, however, may not completely spare students attending one of the state’s 11 public universities.

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A separate law states that if legislators do not increase tuition in the annual state budget than it automatically increases for state universities by the rate of inflation. That would amount to a 1.7 percent hike this fall.

That law, however, is silent on what happens if the governor vetoes the hike included in the budget.
Universities are also allowed to raise tuition above any rate set by the Legislature as long as it does not exceed 15 percent. That is viewed as long-shot, however, because those hikes have to be approved by the Florida Board of Governors. Scott has remade the board in the last few months with new appointments.

And in his veto message Scott included quotes from top higher education officials who supported his decision to veto the tuition hike.

University of Florida President Bernie Machen said that since lawmakers provided a “badly needed funding increase” his institution would not be seeking a tuition increase. UF was given additional money as part of legislation that designates it a “pre-eminent university.”

David Armstrong, president of Broward College, stated: “We are confident we can hold down the student cost to attend college and continue to provide excellent quality and expansion of services to support student success.”

There are legal questions about whether Scott even has the power to veto the tuition hike because of the way lawmakers authorized it.

The money for the tuition hike is embedded in large sums set aside for colleges and universities. Lawmakers then wrote a budget provision that sets the tuition amount 3 percent higher.

Scott is vetoing this provision even though the state constitution says the governor “may not veto any qualification or restriction” included in the budget without vetoing the money attached to it.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist back in 2007 also vetoed a proposed tuition hike. Yet despite questions about his authority, the veto stood because no one challenged it in court.

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