by Rey Reyes
College students may need to dig deeper into their pockets next year to make up a projected $2 billion shortfall in Florida’s budget, state Senate President Mike Haridopolos said Thursday.
Money for Florida’s colleges and universities will likely be slashed during the upcoming legislative session, the Melbourne Republican said during a conference call with the editorial board of The Tampa Tribune.
“Until about August of this year, we thought we’d have a break-even year,” Haridopolos said Thursday during a conference call with the editorial board of The Tampa Tribune.
“The economy has dipped since August. We’re going to have to make some cuts primarily in health and human services and probably the second area of reduction will be in higher education.”
Even if the budgets of universities are slashed, “they have the ability to make ends meet with fees,” Haridopolos said. “And they have reserves they can draw on. So those are all options that are on the table.”
Though he didn’t directly advocate tuition increases, he noted that universities have the ability to raise tuition a certain amount.
Tuition for Florida’s public universities has gone up every year for the past four years. The University of South Florida and other large state-funded universities have had tuition costs go up 15 percent every year since 2007.
That year, lawmakers voted to let tuition at the 11 state universities rise by 15 percent each year until it was up to the national average, which was about $7,000 a year in 2010.
Haridopolos didn’t discuss how much more students could pay on top of the annual increases in fees if the Legislature votes to slash higher education funding next year. He instead pointed out Florida’s tuition rates compared to other states.
“We have one of the five lowest tuition rates in the country,” he said. “This is still the best bargain in the country as far as higher education.”
During his telephone call to the editorial board, the Senate president also touched on a variety of other issues, including:
Haridopolos is reluctant to make cuts for K-12 education. “This is the last place we want to make reductions,” he said.
To increase revenue, Florida may have to take a hard look at becoming a state for destination gambling, he said.
Lawmakers are already pushing to either outlaw Internet sweepstakes cafes—which they say is no different than playing slot machines—or regulating the establishments. There’s also talk of building more casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
“At this point, it’s a 50-50 proposition,” Haridopolos said of Florida’s future as a gambling state. “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to have to do it right, like limiting licenses.”
Haridopolos could favor collecting taxes from out-of-state merchants who sell goods and services on the Internet, but only if there was a trade-off.
“I’m open to the suggestion, but not as a revenue enhancer,” he said. “If it’s a way to lower other taxes that we’re looking at, I’m open to that.”