Florida Gov. Rick Scott came right out and said it today to a pack of reporters: “I don’t believe in tuition increases…”

Gov. Scott

But those words coming from perhaps the most powerful person in Tallahassee are not stopping universities from pushing for massive tuition hikes — and for unlimited power to skyrocket certain university tuition even more. Now, students across Florida will have to wait and see whether Scott will actually put a stop to it.

In the wake of the Legislature’s $52.6 million slashing to UCF’s budget, a spokesman told KnightNews.com UCF will seek to raise differential tuition by 15 percent. But that 15 percent hike for the Knights could pale in comparison to what University of Florida and Florida State students could soon pay, under a bill passed by the Legislature.

That bill, which would give unlimited tuition raising power to schools meeting certain criteria only UF and FSU currently meet, is on its way to Scott’s desk, where he could veto it. When asked about the controversial bill, Scott said, “I haven’t read that yet, but as you know, I don’t believe in tuition increases so I’m going to look at that very closely.”

KnightNews.com hired a crew in Tallahassee to get Scott’s take on tuition:

It’s just the latest in a series of signs from Scott that a veto of skyrocketing tuition is possible. Back on Feb. 29, Scott told reporters in Tallahassee, “I’m not in favor of tuition increases.”

Gov. Scott’s spokesman, Lane Wright, sent KnightNews.com a statement back on Feb. 1 stating Scott believed universities could make ends meet without the tuition hikes. When KnightNews.com asked today if that was still the case, Wright said, “Governor Scott’s position hasn’t changed.”

That position, Wright said in the statement, centers around how Scott’s top priorities are making sure everyone has the opportunity for a good education, an opportunity to get a job and keeping the cost of living low in Florida. According to Wright, Scott’s initiatives are working, and unemployment has dropped from 12 to 9.9 percent under his watch.

“But to continue that trend, we need to make sure we have a well educated workforce and a low cost of living in this state. An increase in tuition comes out of your pocket,” Wright told KnightNews.com. “That means you’ll have less money for rent, groceries, transportation, etc.”

Instead of raising tuition, Scott wants universities to save money.

“So many families and businesses have been tightening their belts during this recession and government entities should do the same thing,” Wright told KnightNews.com in the statement. “Our governmental institutions, like universities, should be asking, “Can we do things less expensively? Are there areas where we can reduce costs and still fulfill our core mission? Governor Scott is confident they can find a way to do that and avoid tuition hikes that will put a greater financial strain on students and their families.”

But UCF argues it has already cut back — and the Legislature keeps the cuts coming anyway.

“It is also important to view this cut as part of a larger trend: UCF’s state budget now has been cut about $150 million during the past five years,” UCF spokesman Grant Heston told KnightNews.com Thursday.

KnightNews.com pointed out to Heston that UCF has previously said it had to lay people off and slash majors thanks to the massive state budget cuts. In taking these steps, it has helped UCF save a lot of money in reserves for a rainy day — more than some other universities.

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Part of the reason lawmakers have said certain universities got larger cuts than others was because those getting the largest cuts had more reserves packed away. The lawmakers said the cuts would be a one time thing, and universities could just replace the money from university reserves until legislative funding is restored next year.

KnightNews.com asked Heston if UCF was unfairly punished for being fiscally responsible and saving money in the recent tough times, only to have its reserves raided, but Heston’s statement did not directly address that question. Heston did say, however, that “UCF is home to many talented, hard-working and dedicated staff and faculty members. Their continued unwavering commitment to our students and university will be vital to our future.”

KnightNews.com will continue keeping a close eye on Tallahassee and let you know what state leaders do next in the battle over the cost of higher education.