Speaking with reporters at the Florida State Fair in Tampa on Thursday, Governor Rick Scott repeated that he would "consider" a proposal spearheaded by House Speaker Will Weatherford to provide in-state tuition for undocumented students at state colleges and universities.
"I said I would certainly consider it. I want tuition to be lower for everybody," he said, pivoting toward a policy position he has advocated for the past couple of years. But he also took the opportunity to take a shot at his likely Democratic gubernatorial opponent this year, former Governor Charlie Crist.
"The last administration did a 15 percent differential, then passed a law that said it would go up with CPI [consumer price index]. I want to get rid of those. I want everybody's tuition to go down."
In 2007, Crist's first year in office, he signed a differential tuition bill that allowed three state universities (USF, Florida and Florida State) to charge undergraduate students an additional $1,000 in tuition over the course of several years. In 2009 the Legislature passed and Crist signed another differential tuition bill that raised tuition by 8 percent, and gave state universities the option to pump up tuition to a total of 15 percent.
Since then, many (but not all) of the state's universities have continued to raise their tuition annually by 15 percent.
In-state (i.e. lower) tuition for undocumented immigrants has been floated in Tallahassee for more than a decade. But it's received a jolt of momentum this year because of the support of House Speaker Weatherford, whose conservative credentials have never been called into question.
There's also the growing Hispanic influence in the Sunshine State, a factor that may have figured in Scott's selection of Carlos Lopez-Cantera to be his lieutenant governor and running mate.
"16 states have already addressed this issue. It's now Florida's turn," Weatherford wrote in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times last month.
Among those 16 states is Texas, governed by Scott's ally RIck Perry. CL asked Scott if that mattered at all to him. He simply repeated that he would consider the legislation, while offering a personal anecdote.
"When I went to school I didn't have parents to pay for it," he said. "My wife and I had to pay our own way through. I eventually got the GI Bill for going into the Navy. But we've got to reduce tuition for everybody. And so what I said yesterday was that I would certainly consider it."
At the press availability (which consisted of only three print reporters, including yours truly) Scott was also asked about his stance on raising the minimum wage. Florida Democrats Dwight Bullard and Cynthia Stafford have introduced legislation that would raise the state's minimum wage from its current $7.93 to $10.10 an hour. The bill would also raise the sub-minimum wage for servers from $4.91 to $10.10 as well.
"My focus is, let's attract the best-paying jobs we can," he replied. "Look, when people go out there and say 'Raise the minimum wage and it's going to make somebody have a comfortable lifestyle,' it's not. We've got to out there and recruit companies that are going to pay higher wages."
Actually nobody is arguing that an increase would provide "a comfortable lifestyle," just that it would make life a bit more bearable for those currently working at a lower wage.