A quick note on today’s decision of the Florida Supreme Court that the legislature has the authority to set tuition for the state’s public universities. In 2002, voters approved a state constitutional amendment that created the Board of Governors as a constitutional body to manage the state’s universities. Several key supporters of that amendment were among the plaintiffs arguing that the constitutional amendment gave the Board of Governors the implicit authority to set tuition.
In today’s unanimous ruling, the state supreme court disagreed, arguing that the constitutional amendment gave the Board of Governors administrative and executive authority, not taxing authority. It’s essentially a separation-of-powers decision based on broad language on legislative power over appropriations and what the court ruled was narrow language on the Board of Governors’ authority.
But in a short but significant passage, Justice Barbara Pariente said that the ruling was only about the general issue of tuition, not whether any language in the appropriations act could tie the hands of the Board of Governors as a contingency for receiving state funding. The language was in the main text of the court’s opinion as well as a concurring opinion, and it clearly left open the possibility that in the future, the Court could rule that a specific contingency might be an encroachment on the Board of Governors’ constitutional authority. Given our legislature’s tendency to stuff all sorts of contingencies in the budget, that’s a cautionary note for our friends in Tallahassee.
In other words, in the long-term tug-of-war between the legislature and the universities, the basic message is Stay Tuned.