Tax group recommends $55M cut to Bright Futures

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - State lawmakers may once again look to the Bright Futures Scholarship Program to save money.

An influential tax group is asking lawmakers to make the scholarship harder to get to save the state $55 million.

Florida State University junior Wesley Mellone is on track to graduate debt free.

"With my parents funding my rent only and I'll pay for my food, I'm able to graduate without any loans," Mellone said.

He credits the Bright Futures Scholarship program for his financial fortune.

"Bright Futures and a combination of other scholarships pay my tuition completely," he said.

Every year Mellone has been at FSU, Bright Futures has been scaled back.

The program peeked in 2008 when the state awarded $429 million worth of scholarships. The cost to the state has now fallen to $316 million.

State lawmakers may look to Bright Futures once again to balance the budget. Florida TaxWatch is recommending another $55 million cut to the program.

TaxWatch released its annual cost savings recommendations. High on the list is limiting Bright Futures to the top 10 percent of graduates from each school.

"It will help us achieve diversity within the state university system," said Rob Weissert, of Florida TaxWatch. "It'll help achieve predictability with the cost going forward because based on how many students we have in 12th grade, we know a certain percentage will be eligible for Bright Futures."

The recommendation is drawing the ire of House Democrats, longtime opponents of any cuts to the popular scholarship program.

"If we continue to cut back the funds, they don't have the moneys to pay for the courses to go to school," said Rep. Gwen Clarke-Reed, D-Fort Lauderdale.

Despite the recent run on the program, this year there's a budget surplus, which means the scholarship money may remain untouched.

TaxWatch is recommending several options to scale back Bright Futures. Limiting the scholarship to the top 10 percent of students in a school could save the state $55 million. Limiting the reward to the top 25 percent would save the state $7 million.

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