Sunday, September 28
A year ago, budget shortfalls hit higher education particularly hard, and the public universities had to fight with the Legislature over the power to raise tuition and freeze freshman enrollment. Community colleges were also affected as Gov. Charlie Crist, proposed to reduce their state funding by at least 4%, or about $43.5 million, at a time when enrollments increased 7.2% across 28 campuses last fall. The cuts — a direct result of the housing downturn—also collided with counter-cyclical enrollment cycles of community colleges. During good times, people work and enrollment is down. During bad times, enrollment rates increase. And this is when the state comes in and says “sorry… but …”
Community Colleges expect the problem to get worse after the Board of Governors’ vote to freeze freshman enrollment at four-year universities at last fall’s level. With the number of new high school graduates increasing, community colleges are the only solution to many students as the university system had a total enrollment of 282,134 in 2005.
And this is how Amendment 8 was introduced. On Nov. 4, when –hopefully- all of you exercise your right to vote, you will see Amendment 8, placed on the ballot by the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission. Its title is “Local Option Community College Funding.” Amendment 8 will allow counties to raise their sales tax in order to increase community college funding. Allan Bense, chairman of that committee, has explained the amendment. "“What Amendment 8 does, it basically provides another way for community colleges to raise money. If this amendment passes, then every community college will have the option of having a local referendum to increase the sales tax by up to a half cent. Now, if a community college is located in more than one county, all of those counties would have to participate and it would have to pass in all three counties.”
If the voters approve of the local option sales tax, it would have to be reauthorized every five years. Bense said that among his 24 colleagues on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, support for putting Amendment 8 on the ballot was very strong.
“I think it was unanimous. Frankly, I think it was about the only unanimous vote that we had. The members of the commission were of many conservatives, many liberals, from South Florida, from North Florida, but clearly I think all 25 agreed that the needs that our community college system has and the great job it does in educating students is important and we felt this would help that mission.”
However, not everyone is happy with it. It has been criticized as “regressive.” A regressive tax rate decreases as the amount subject to taxation increases, and therefore it imposes a greater burden on lower-income families. Also, if passed in certain counties and not in others, certain colleges would get extra funding, and others would not. The Board of Trustees of Manatee Community College has voted to oppose it while St Petersburg College supports it.
What are your thoughts on Amendment 8? Do you believe we need it or not?