Kemp vetoes bill requiring lawmaker approval for college tuition hikes

Gov. Brian Kemp (left) speaks on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp (left) speaks on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (Natrice Miller/

Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday vetoed a bill passed last week that would require the Georgia General Assembly’s approval before state universities could raise tuition or fees by more than 3%.

The move is Kemp’s first veto of his second term and the latest volley in an ongoing funding tussle between lawmakers and the University System of Georgia.

On the final day of the legislative session, lawmakers tacked on the tuition control measure to an otherwise low-profile House Bill 319.

The addition would have required the Georgia Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s 26 public colleges and universities, to get lawmakers’ approval before raising rates by more than 3% over the prior school year.

Some questioned if the requirement was allowed under the state constitution, and Kemp raised the same issue in his veto decision.

“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,” Kemp said, in a veto statement. “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.”

In the waning moments before the House adjourned, Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, described the measure to fellow lawmakers as a way to “allow the General Assembly to work with the Board of Regents to try to keep our tuition low.” The amended bill passed the House by a vote of 160-1.

It cleared the Senate by a unanimous vote.

The attempt to control tuition increases came as lawmakers approved a $66 million state funding decrease to the University System for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on July 1. Some lawmakers feared the system would respond by raising tuition, as it did amid spending cuts during the Great Recession when now-Chancellor Sonny Perdue was governor.

Perdue last week slammed the cut, calling it “incredibly disappointing.” The state budget awaits Kemp’s approval.

In a statement Wednesday, the University System again expressed concerns about state funding declines and said its average annual tuition increase since 2016 has been 0.72%.

“As a result, Georgia students and families pay some of the lowest tuition and fees in the Southeast and in the nation despite previous reductions to the system’s state funding as well as rising inflationary costs,” it said. “The University System respects the General Assembly and shares its commitment to keeping costs down but moving forward can’t maintain a quality higher education with the stability of low tuition if we continue to face additional reductions in state funding.”

Typically, the Board of Regents sets tuition and fee rates in April. Last spring, the board voted to raise tuition at just one school, marking the fourth time in five years the board hadn’t raised tuition and fees for most students. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for April 18-19 at the University of North Georgia.

The original aim of HB 319 was to abolish the Georgia Higher Education Assistance Corporation. The public corporation was created in 1965 to support a federal student loan program that no longer exists.

It is one of three entities overseen by the Georgia Student Finance Commission, the agency that also administers the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship program. Officials had said that abolishing the corporation would save staff time and free up roughly $25 million in revenue for other uses.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.