Gov. Rick Scott slashed a red line through Senate President Joe Negron’s top legislative priority on Wednesday, vetoing an extensive plan to boost the state’s higher education system.
Scott said he vetoed the legislation, SB 374, because it “impedes the State College System” by interfering with Florida’s 28 state colleges’ abilities to offer bachelor’s degrees by “unnecessarily increasing red tape” and favoring state universities.
“This interference impedes the ability of state colleges to meet the needs of the communities and families they serve,” he wrote in his veto letter. “In addition to this legislation, the total budget of the State College System was cut by $26.7 million during the 2017 Regular Session.”
The governor's veto means there will be no permanent boost to the state’s Bright Futures program, which provides scholarships to students who achieve a specific standard of academic excellence.
An expansion of Bright Futures will still occur for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, however, but there’s no guarantee the increase will continue beyond then.
The governor said it was up to the Legislature to make sure the increase to the Bright Futures scholarships is made permanent.
“Florida’s students will still benefit from this critical program,” wrote Scott. “I urge the Legislature to pass legislation that revisits these issues and expands Bright Future Scholarships permanently while recognizing the importance of both our state colleges and universities in the 2018 Legislative Session.”
Negron was quick to criticize the veto for interfering with families’ ability to make clear decisions when it came to higher education.
“As I have traveled the state talking to families, I have learned what an important role Bright Futures plays as students plan their financial investment in a college or university education,” Negron said. “Students and families deserve certainty when making these important decisions, and today’s veto makes advance planning much more difficult.”
The Stuart Republican also said he wasn’t sure he was on the same page as Scott when it came to vetoing the bill.
“I fundamentally disagree that SB 374 makes positive changes to our universities at the expense of Florida’s community colleges,” he said. “Like Governor Scott, many members of the Senate attended our state’s community colleges and we recognize the vital role they play in our public education system.”
It was that “vital role,” Negron said, that drove state lawmakers to write and pass SB 374 to “further elevate” Florida’s community colleges to focus on their mission of on-time graduation for students working on their associate degrees.
The veto comes on the heels of a special session in which state lawmakers largely caved to the governor’s wishes to fully fund the state’s tourism agency, Visit Florida -- a move that was largely rumored to be part of a “backroom deal” between Scott and House Speaker Corcoran in exchange for Scott’s signature on Corcoran’s top education priority, HB 7069.
Once bitter enemies, Corcoran and Scott seem to have buried the hatchet and recently embarked on a five-city “Victory Tour” across the state.
Negron was not present at any of the events.
Despite the veto, Negron said he wouldn’t be giving up the fight to pump funds into the state’s university system.
“Our higher education system is our primary economic engine to drive vibrant, sustainable economic development and growth in high-paying jobs,” he said. “I will continue my commitment to Florida's students and our colleges and universities next Session.”