Pennsylvania colleges borrow as they await funds from state
January 6, 2016 12:00 AM
Part of the Milton Hall on the North Side campus of the Community College of Allegheny County.
By Bill Schackner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Two Western Pennsylvania community colleges have tapped more than $10 million in bank lines of credit to meet payroll and ensure other classroom and campus operations will continue while waiting for state appropriations now half-a-year overdue.
Officials at those institutions, Community College of Allegheny County and Butler County Community College, expressed optimism Tuesday that the matter will be resolved. They said they hope funds approved to date will arrive soon, even as Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislators Tuesday continued to trade jabs.
In recent weeks, both colleges took extraordinary financial actions to ensure the spring semester’s start was not affected by a commonwealth budget still incomplete. As enacted, it includes no more for the state’s 14 community colleges than the $215.7 million they received in 2014-15.
At CCAC, officials secured a $22 million line from PNC Bank. So far, CCAC has tapped $8.1 million, and if the state budget remains unresolved on March 1, the college will explore extending the line of credit, CCAC spokeswoman Elizabeth Johnston said.
“We have used the line of credit to ensure the college has sufficient funding for the entire month of January,” Ms. Johnston said.
That includes salary, utilities and a variety of other costs, she added.
The 2015-16 state budget was due July 1. As the fight over it entered the fall, CCAC halted in-house capital projects, stopped non-essential travel, curbed professional development expenditures and delayed equipment purchases, among other moves. Officials said those curbs are continuing.
At Butler County Community College, $2 million has been drawn down from a $3 million bank line of credit, president Nicholas Neupauer said. In addition, three-quarters of the $2 million intended to fund the campus bookstore as an auxiliary enterprise now is subsidizing general campus operations.
Spring tuition revenue is helping, but the state owes the college $5 million toward the school’s $27 million budget, Mr. Neupauer said. The college also is awaiting its next payment from Butler County commissioners, the school’s local sponsor.
Meanwhile, the school has sought to stretch out payments to vendors and has received cooperation from those businesses, the president said. “Frankly, it’s been a bit of a shell game just to piece these things together as we wait for those [government] payments,” he said.
He said state funds should arrive no later than next week’s end.
Jeffrey Sheridan, a spokesman for Mr. Wolf, said as late as Thanksgiving that the administration and legislative caucuses had settled on $226.5 million for community colleges. But in the budget enacted in recent days, community college funding was reduced to $215.7 million.
“The Republicans sent the governor an unbalanced budget that would have grown the deficit and made cuts to education, so he blue-line vetoed parts of it to ensure it was balanced, while also ensuring funding went out the door for education and human services,” Mr. Sheridan said. “Republican leaders need to call the Legislature back into session to pass the increase to which they agreed.”
That drew a sharp retort from Republicans. “The governor can blame anyone he wants,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans. “But [Wolf] is the one who decided what to cut and not to cut, and it wasn’t just community colleges.”
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.
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