Presidents of Pitt, PSU decry state budget stalemate
February 27, 2016 12:00 AM
Pitt chancellor Patrick Gallagher said the budget stalemate has left a $147 million hole in Pitt’s budget and called it unprecedented in the half-century Pitt has been a state-related school.
By Bill Schackner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Penn State University’s president warned Friday that 1,100 workers in Agricultural Research and Extension programs could be laid off statewide this spring if those programs do not secure a state appropriation by May 1.
Addressing school trustees in Hershey, Eric Barron blamed the state budget stalemate in Harrisburg, which has left Penn State and three other state-related universities including the University of Pittsburgh with no state appropriation eight months into the 2015-16 fiscal year.
He said the absent aid amounts to about $600 million collectively on those campuses.
Hours earlier in Pittsburgh, Pitt chancellor Patrick Gallagher told his board with less specificity of “devastating consequences” that could occur at his university and the others if what he called a “serious game of brinksmanship” continues between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republicans in the Legislature.
He said it has left a $147 million hole in Pitt’s budget and called it unprecedented in the half-century Pitt has been a state-related school. He said the university could be forced to tap a line of credit for some operations, as other schools have done.
“With each day without action in Harrisburg, we face a growing possibility that we will not receive any state funding this year,” Mr. Gallagher said.
Mr. Barron’s and Mr. Gallagher’s remarks added to the theater that has been building for months around a blame game between Democrats and Republicans over why the commonwealth’s budget, due last June 30, still is not finished.
A few months ago, the state-related universities seemed headed for a funding increase, but that dissolved along with an apparent budget agreement between legislators and Mr. Wolf that might have completed the spending plan.
At Penn State, the situation threatens irreversible impacts on those agriculture-related programs that provide a range of key services to the agricultural community across Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, officials said.
Penn State said an analysis by the College of Agricultural Sciences found that the jobs in jeopardy range from faculty to part-time extension positions. It said another $90 million in federal and county appropriations, and competitive grant funding that flows in because of the commonwealth’s investment, could be lost.
“The dedicated faculty, staff, researchers and educators whose positions are at risk play a vital role in helping our state’s single-largest industry to compete on a national scale,” Mr. Barron added. “Their work helps Pennsylvania’s farmers to increase efficiency and productivity, and helps the entire agricultural industry to respond swiftly to animal disease outbreaks, to address natural crises such as flooding and drought, to diagnose plant diseases that can threaten crops, and to respond to outbreaks of food-borne illness, to name just a few of many critical services. “We are now vulnerable to potential loss of key people.”
Mr. Barron said the standoff also could result in the elimination of 4-H and Master Gardener programs statewide. The university said it would affect about 92,000 members and some 9,500 volunteers statewide.
Next Wednesday, the leaders of Pitt, Temple and Lincoln universities as well as Penn State are to go before the state Legislature to argue their case for their appropriations for 2016-17 budget — still unsure whether they will get aid for this year.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1977 .
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