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Governor slashes state college fund

Governor Corbett’s budget, released on Tuesday, will cut funding to state universities, including the University of Pittsburgh, by 30 percent. (credit: Courtesy of nmarritz on Flickr ) Governor Corbett’s budget, released on Tuesday, will cut funding to state universities, including the University of Pittsburgh, by 30 percent. (credit: Courtesy of nmarritz on Flickr )

Tom Corbett, the governor of Pennsylvania, unveiled his new 2012–13 budget to the public last Tuesday, revealing heavy funding cuts to state universities.

Speaking to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Corbett’s address outlined his proposed budget for the coming year. He said, “We will not spend more than we have.”

The $27.1 billion state budget also cut funding to numerous social welfare programs while maintaining funding for correctional facilities — something which hasn’t happened in the last 10 years.

Despite the reduction in the higher education budget, this proposal is meant to shelter public schools from any more funding cuts, and will not raise taxes for Pennsylvanians.

In his speech, Corbett called the proposal “a budget grounded in difficult realities but framed in the optimism that we are solving our problems.” He continued, “Once again, revenues do not match mandated, escalating costs. That means we must continue the course bravely charted by this assembly in the year just passed.”

This budget proposal comes on the heels of last year’s controversial budget, which slashed funding to many state programs in an attempt to reconcile $4 billion dollars in state debt.

This year, the state is expecting to incur a $719 million deficit by the end of June, and is seeking revenue outside of tax increases.
The state plans to fund itself through a new fee on Marcellus Shale drilling; a 30 percent cut in funding to the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University, and Temple University; and the elimination of a substantial amount of line-item spending.

“I am submitting to you a budget proposal that is at once lean and demanding. In the coming weeks we will sit down to work out the final details as we map out our course. But this map comes with boundaries. We will not spend more than we have,” Corbett said in his speech. “We will not raise taxes. There is no talking around these limits. Every dollar taken in tax is one less dollar in the hands of a job holder or a job creator. Every dollar spent by government is one dollar less in the sector that creates real prosperity.”

Despite these arguments in favor of the new budget, a number of lawmakers stand in opposition to the proposal.

The office of Pennsylvania State House Democratic Caucus Chairman Dan Frankel (D.–23rd district, Allegheny County) released a statement in rebuttal to the budget announcement on Tuesday. In the statement, Frankel said that Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure requires investment that it will not receive in the new budget and called the cuts to the University of Pittsburgh’s funding “devastating.”

State representative Jake Wheatley (D.–19th district, Allegheny County) agreed. Wheatley’s office released a statement in which he said that Corbett should have addressed transportation in his budget.

“I was amazed that the governor punted again on what to do about transportation funding,” Wheatley said in the statement. He also echoed Frankel’s remarks regarding education.

In his own press release, State Senator Wayne Fontana (D.–42nd district, Allegheny County) summed up his reaction to the proposal by saying, “Less than a week after we celebrated Groundhog Day, Pennsylvanians had a Groundhog Day moment of another kind as Governor Corbett outlined his 2012–13 state budget yesterday. Apparently, the governor wants a repeat of last year’s budget, which means more painful cuts, no direct job creation funding, and no concern for ensuring that wealthy corporations pay their fair share.”

“A budget reflects priorities,” Frankel further said in his statement. “It concerns me that this budget makes significant cuts in health care, zeroes out the diabetes program, cuts public welfare, and slashes higher education, but increases funds for controversial partisan and ideologically-based programs like Voter ID and crisis pregnancy centers.”

In a statement released by his office, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg acknowledged that the governor is under great pressure to balance the budget, but said that the funding cuts will be devastating for Pitt.

“Unfortunately, what almost certainly will prove to be most memorable about 2012 is that an already brutal budget year has been made far worse by today’s proposal for deep and disproportionate cuts emerging from the state capital,” Nordenberg said. “It would reduce our state support, if adjusted for inflation, to the lowest level since Pitt became a state-related university.”

Some Pitt students also expressed discontent with the new budget. First-year biomedical engineering student Maria Alessi said, “I’m very disappointed in the government and think they are being far too extreme in this case. The tuition at Pitt and Penn State, at around $15,000, are already some of the highest of any public university in the entire U.S.; many families already are struggling just to be able to pay that.”
She added, “I see Corbett’s actions as being extremely shortsighted, negligent, and irresponsible.”

Namita Matharu, a first-year neuroscience major, concurred. “Pitt is a renowned university for its academia as well as its exceptional research opportunities,” she said. “The new budget will be a major setback on our education and each student and professor will, undoubtedly, feel the effect heavily.”