Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp vetoes bill capping tuition hikes without lawmakers’ approval
Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed a bill on Tuesday that would have restricted tuition increases at public universities and colleges in the state without the approval of the General Assembly.
House Bill 319 was amended by senators on the final day of the legislative session to prohibit the University System of Georgia’s universities and colleges from raising tuition or fees by more than 3% from the year before, which the governor called an infringement on the authority of the state Board of Regents and a violation of the state constitution.
Kemp said the proposed cap could not be implemented without Georgians voting for a constitutional amendment limiting the powers of the Board of Regents.
“The Georgia Constitution makes plain the authority to govern, control, and manage the University System and all system institutions is vested in the Board of Regents,” he wrote in a statement.
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The Board of Regents oversees the University System of Georgia.
“Because of the constitutional reservation of authority in the Board of Regents, the legislation cannot be adopted without the approval of Georgians through exercise of their franchise,” Kemp added.
The measure intended to address a disagreement in which senators pushed the idea of a $66 million cut to USG’s teaching budget, which comes out of a total budget of $9 billion that includes state funds and tuition and fees received from students.
Senators argued that universities should cover the deficit using some of their roughly $500 million in cash on hand.
The disagreement follows Republican Lt. Gov Burt Jones’ effort to allow hospitals to be built in rural counties without state permits. His push was opposed by Wellstar Health System, which owns a hospital in Jones’ home of Butts County that would face competition from a new facility that could be built on land owned by Jones’ father.
Wellstar has also agreed to take over Augusta University’s hospitals, a deal Jones opposed in an apparent attempt to pressure Wellstar. Augusta University received $105 million earlier this year to purchase a new electronic medical records system, but Jones argued that the payment money was an unfair giveaway to Wellstar.
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Kemp supported the deal between Wellstar and Augusta University.
Jones argued in a statement Tuesday that Kemp should support the legislation to place a tuition cap on Georgia’s public universities and colleges.
“With rising living costs and inflation, the General Assembly worked to make college more affordable for hardworking Georgia families, a goal we should all share,” Jones said. “A 3% annual increase cap makes sense, especially considering the Board of Regents has reserve funds in excess of $500 million. Perhaps their unilateral control over tuition increases should be revisited in future legislative sessions.”
USG Chancellor Sonny Perdue, who is also a former governor of Georgia, said in a statement Thursday after lawmakers adjourned that the $66 million cut is “an incredibly disappointing outcome.” He added that schools are impacted by inflation and took a 10% budget cut during the 2021 budget that was never fully restored.
Perdue also noted that all schools do not have enough leftover money to handle the cut.
House Higher Education Committee Chairman Chuck Martin, a Republican, said nobody in the Senate outlined the reason behind the amendment being attached to the underlying bill that would have abolished a loan-servicing agency.
Martin did not take issue with Kemp’s veto or statement that the tuition cap was unconstitutional.
“I can’t say that I would disagree with his interpretation,” Martin said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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