State Sen. Joe Negron, who is in line to become one of the top officials in state government, pledged Wednesday to steer $1 billion toward Florida's universities over the coming years.
Negron, a 54-year-old attorney from Stuart, made the promise shortly after he was officially chosen by his Republican colleagues to be the GOP designate for Senate President. Negron will assume his post in November 2016 if Republicans hold on to their majority.
Negron said that during his two-year term he wants to help elevate Florida's public universities to the same elite status as schools in North Carolina and Michigan.
"If you look around the county, if you see vibrant, sustainable economic development you almost always see a strong university presence," Negron told senators.
Negron's promise would require a substantial jump in funding. Right now state universities receive about $4.5 billion between tuition and state tax dollars. Negron said that the money would be used to recruit and retain faculty as well as help upgrade university buildings.
Negron also said he wants to revamp the state's Bright Futures scholarship program to cover most of the cost for college. State legislators scaled back the size of the popular college scholarship program several years ago by making the award a flat amount. Negron, who had two of three children attend state universities, said he wants to give the highest-performing students a chance to have 100 percent of their tuition costs covered.
The push by Negron to increase spending on universities could put him on a collision course with Gov. Rick Scott. Scott has challenged universities and colleges to operate more efficiently and he has steadfastly opposed borrowing money in order to pay for new buildings.
One of Negron's other top priorities will be to do more projects to prevent polluted water from being released from Lake Okeechobee into adjacent water bodies such as the Indian River Lagoon.