Leaders of the four state-related universities called on the Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf to settle their differences and send them much-needed state funds.
After a day in the Capitol, university officials said they would leave it up to the legislators and the governor to sort out their policy differences, choosing to not pick sides or what might be the best proposal to get them much-needed funding.
“We do take sides on this issue – we support the support of the state-relateds,” said Penn State Provost Nick Jones, which he noted has bipartisan support. “But how that gets sorted out in this building, we have to leave to our elected representatives.”
Temple University President Neil Theobald agreed: “We all need to stay in our lane.”
The officials from Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln University appeared before the House and Senate Appropriations committees for their annual budget hearings. None of the four universities have received state support for fiscal year 2015-16.
In January, House Democrats effectively stalled passage of $578 million in funding for the state-relateds to House Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny, defended those votes Wednesday, saying the Democrats favored “a sustainable budget.”
“It’s going to take new revenue,” he added.
“I do believe $578 million is better than zero,” House Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, in a later retort to criticisms from Democrats. Republicans argued since the governor vetoed more than $6 billion out of the budget sent to him before Christmas, more than enough revenue exists to cover the state-relateds’ appropriation.
Unique to Penn State’s funding issue, in addition to not receiving the non-preferred appropriation, is the university is in the early stages of potentially shuttering its agricultural extension program and laying off 1,100 employees due to another component of Wolf’s Dec. 29 partial budget veto. The repercussions of that loss of funding would be felt beyond the agricultural sector, Jones said.
If the funding disputes don’t end, pressure will likely be placed on students and their families in the form of tuition increases.
University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said the university will be looking at lines of credit and deferring projects to absorb the lack of funding. But he said further erosion in state support will lead to a higher tuition burden.
Lincoln University Interim President Richard Green said the university tries to incentivize students to finish within four years, and in return keep the student debt burden low by freezing tuition for four years. But he said without the state support, which represents nearly a quarter of the university’s budget, the quality of education would suffer.
Theobald pointed to cuts Temple has made, including to sports programs and the administration, and keeping the increase of operating costs below inflation.
“It’s a partnership between the state and the university, so for our partnership to work you have to have both partners contribute their piece,” Theobald said. “I think the argument we made today is that all four of us have clearly done our part, now it’s time for the state to do their part.”