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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Former Florida Gov. Bob Graham and the Board of Governors, the State University System?s highest governing body, now face a stumbling block in their fight for tuition-setting power.

The board joined Graham?s lawsuit against the Florida Legislature in July. The suit asks a court to clarify which body has authority to set tuition at the state?s 11 universities.

On Thursday, a Leon County circuit court judge ruled that Graham and the board failed to show standing in the case. They have until Feb. 4 to submit evidence proving the Legislature has violated the board?s rights by controlling tuition.

Bill Edmonds, the board?s spokesman, said the judge?s ruling surprised the board.

Still, members of the board would have no problem providing more specific examples of the Legislature?s overreaching by the February deadline, Edmonds said.

The board was created by a constitutional amendment in 2002. Florida voters approved the amendment by referendum.

The board has continually asserted that the amendment made it independent from the Legislature. However, Edmonds said it has not been able to perform its duties adequately because of the Legislature?s interference.

BIt seems clear that the voters did not want business as usual to continue, but that?s what happened,C Edmonds said. BThere?s ambiguity over who?s responsible for the university system?s future.C

In a July news release, Florida Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, called the lawsuit, Ban attempt to get unbridled tuition increases.C

BGod help our students if they win, C Pruitt wrote.

Pruitt could not be reached for comment.

The most recent clash between the two bodies occurred when the Legislature and the board separately called for the state?s public universities to raise tuition.

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The board approved a 5 percent increase for each of Florida?s 11 universities in September, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist approved the Legislature?s own 5 percent increase in October.

BThat doesn?t seem to be good for the universities,C Edmonds said. BIt?s hard for them to move forward with some question about which tuition increase is legitimate.C

The schools will institute a 5 percent tuition hike in spring, which will generate a total of about ,9.5 million. UF?s share will be about ,1.4 million.

BFortunately, the tuition increases are identical, but that might not be the case next year,C Edmonds said. BIf we impose a 3 percent increase and the Legislature imposes 6 percent, what?s Bernie Machen going to do?C UF spokesman Steve Orlando said UF was not ready to comment about the recent ruling.

Edmonds said the board hopes the lawsuit would clear up all the confusion over who?s really in charge. The judge?s recent ruling isn?t a major a setback, he said.

BWe don?t see this as a closed door,C Edmonds said.

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