MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami Dade College is led by President Eduardo Padrón, a hugely respected and proper figure. The “proper” part, however, has taken a punch this week.

Padrón has drawn the ire of South Florida lawmakers whom he’s called out for opposing a non-binding vote of the people on a half-penny sales tax hike to support Miami Dade College, which he says is in financial crisis.

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In an interview with the Miami Herald editorial board, Padrón called Republican opponents of the tax referendum “bullies” bent on inflicting “tragedy” on their community’s higher education, and motivated by “hidden agendas.” Padron believes lawmakers have been swayed by special interests, including private colleges.

Rep. Jose Oliva was ripped in the interview by Padrón, who called the Miami Lakes Republican a college “dropout” who was “born into money,” and “has never had to earn a living.”

Ouch.

Oliva told CBS4 News Thursday that he founded and runs his own company and opposes the sales tax increase that would cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars. He said Padrón should watch his mouth.

“It’s very unfortunate when those types of personal attacks get into the discussion,” Oliva said during a recess in a committee meeting in Tallahassee. “It just reflects poorly on our entire community.”

Seven state representatives, including one Democrat, have blasted Padrón for his comments.

Penned by Rep. Eduardo “Eddy” Gonzalez of Hialeah, the head of the Miami-Dade delegation, a joint letter from the representatives called Padrón‘s remarks “something we cannot and will not tolerate.”

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“Uncivilized discourse,” the letter continued, “from such a respected community leader is something we are all compelled to condemn.”

On campus the bout between Padrón and anti-tax lawmakers saw students solidly in the corner of their pugilistic president.

“We need money, we need our education, and for them to take that away and limit us, I don’t think that’s fair,” said student Devron Coco-Bassey.

In their letter, addressed to the Miami Herald editorial board, the offended state representatives said Padrón should immediately issue “a public apology…to those he vilified.”

Late Thursday, they got their apology.

Padrón issued a statement saying in part, “I realize that comments I made of a personal nature were not appropriate and I regret they were offensive. That was not my intention. I do not want to argue with our legislators.”

At the same time, Padrón insisted that the people have the right to vote on whether to tax themselves to support their public college. He said he remains committed to getting what he considers a critical issue for the future of public higher education on the ballot.

“The people are more than capable of addressing this issue and the legislature should not deny that democratic privilege,” Padrón said.

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This is the fourth year that MDC has attempted to get the sales tax measure to a straw poll of the voters.