University leaders appeal to state government to fund their schools
March 3, 2016 12:00 AM
Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — With a delay of eight months so far in state funding for the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University, university leaders got to appeal directly to legislators Wednesday during budget hearings.
Appearing before the House Appropriations Committee with representatives of the other state-related universities, University of Pittsburgh chancellor Patrick Gallagher said Pitt’s budget now has a deficit it has to manage. But he said he has a bigger concern.
“One of the consequences of a budget impasse like this is not just the short-term financial crisis,” he said during the hearing. “We are not talking about what these universities can do to be an engine of growth for the state of Pennsylvania.”
Speaking to a reporter after the hearing, he said, “What I’m most concerned about is what happens if we don’t have the certainty about the nature of our relationship to the state. ... As state support has eroded, more and more of the burden has gone onto students and their families through higher and higher tuition.”
Funding for the state-related universities, which also include Temple University and Lincoln University, has fallen victim to the disagreements between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled General Assembly on the state budget and related issues. In late December, Mr. Wolf signed a Republican-passed budget but made reductions through line-item vetoes in an attempt to draw legislators back to negotiations.
The state-related universities receive state funding through non-preferred appropriations bills, which require a two-thirds vote to pass. In November, the Senate approved bills that would give Pitt, Penn State and Temple a 5 percent funding increase and Lincoln a 7 percent funding increase. But when the House brought them up in January, after a tentative agreement between Mr. Wolf and the General Assembly had fallen apart, most Democrats voted no, and the bills failed to get the required two-thirds vote.
Republicans referred to those votes Wednesday as they emphasized that they had tried to deliver state funding. “I was given two chances as a representative to vote on the non-preferred appropriations and voted positively each time,” said Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong.
Democrats say Pennsylvania does not have enough revenue to pay for everything in the GOP-crafted budget, and that they do want to fund the state-related universities. Mr. Wolf has proposed raising the personal income tax rate to close a budget shortfall and increase education funding.
“We can promise what we cannot pay for, and we can promise an appropriation that is not funded,” Rep. Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, said at the hearing. “But to be so disingenuous with students here, to say that we want to give you 3 percent, 5 percent and act like this is a bidding war for the hearts and soul of Pennsylvania students, is beyond disingenuous. It’s just wrong.”
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, the state provided Penn State with $231 million, Pitt with $136 million, Temple with $139 million and Lincoln with $13 million.
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.
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