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Governor changes face, proposes level funding

Gov. Tom Corbett annouced a proposal to flat-fund state universities next year.

After he called for deep cuts in funding for higher education in his first two years in office, Gov. Tom Corbett reversed course and proposed to flat-fund Temple, and the other three state-related and 14 state universities last week.

The proposal, which he will formally announce as part of his annual budget address today, Feb. 5, was done as a part of what Corbett called a commitment to lawmakers that the universities would contain tuition.

“This is an investment of $1.58 billion that’s going to help Pennsylvania students achieve their dreams of higher education,” Corbett said. “At the same time, the leaders of these universities have made a commitment to me, Sen. [Jake] Corman and Rep. [Kerry] Benninghoff, that they will keep tuition as low as they possibly can.”

President Neil Theobald stood with a stage full of legislators and university officials during Corbett’s announcement and lauded the partnership between the state and its universities when he took the podium.

“Today’s announcement of an affordability partnership between the commonwealth and its universities is welcomed news for students and their families who are struggling to balance the burden of student loan debt with the need to earn the college degree that is so essential for better career opportunities in the 21st century,” Theobald said.

The governor’s decision was made in part by recommendations made by the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education, which former Acting President Richard Englert was part of. Among the recommendations cited by Corbett was to link future funding increases to performance.

Under the governor’s proposal, Temple would receive $139.9 million for the third straight fiscal year. Last year, Corbett called for 30 percent cut to Temple’s funding, but the school’s funding was leveled from the previous year. In his first budget address as governor, Corbett proposed to cut more than half of Temple’s commonwealth funding. Ultimately, the university saw a 19 percent cut, bringing Temple’s state funding from $172.7 million to $139.9 million, which it stands at today.

On top of the commission’s recommendations, Senior Vice President for Government, Public and Community Affairs Ken Lawrence said last week’s announcement was a culmination of support in the legislature for higher education, improvement in Pennsylvania’s economy and work from members of the Temple community.

“It’s a reflection of the hard work from Temple students, Temple employees, Temple alumni and friends of higher education in general over the past two years,” Lawrence said.

Temple requested a 3 percent increase in state funding for fiscal year 2014, but when asked how hard Temple is pushing for the additional resources, Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Anthony Wagner said the university would be “very careful not to appear to be ungrateful of this gesture by the governor.”

“For us to think that we’ve got a very good chance of being out of the lime light with respect to budget cuts, we would just be careful as far as how hard we push for the additional 3 percent on the appropriation,” Wagner said.

Temple Student Government Student Body President David Lopez agreed with Wagner’s sentiments, but said, “We would be grateful for more money, absolutely.”

Theobald will testify before the House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 25 and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 28, and will talk about what Temple can do with a potential increase in funding, Lawrence said.

“We’ll definitely talk about the increase, but you have to see where revenues are with the commonwealth,” Lawrence said. “But it’s nice to know at this point that the governor’s at least proposing flat-funding as opposed to a cut.”

Compared to the last two years, Temple officials said the governor’s proposal allows them to operate with a greater sense of stability and to plan for next year without financial uncertainty looming over the university.

“We were sitting here the last couple Februaries forced to [draw up] pretty draconian scenarios about cutting the university’s budget, and you can’t put those plans together over night,” Wagner said. “That kind of uncertainty hanging over everyone’s head creates a lot of anxiety, a lot of worry.”

“You end up spending most of your time on these doomsday scenarios, these draconian cuts,” added Senior Associate Vice President for Finance and Human Resources Ken Kaiser. “It takes a lot of energy and a lot of people’s time, and you’re not making plans for next year, you’re not being innovative.”

As Corbett’s budget proposal moves through the legislature, Lawrence said the university still needs to stay vigilant to make sure the General Assembly knows what the appropriation means to residents of Pennsylvania.

Corbett’s move allows Temple to advocate for more wide-ranging issues, Lopez said, that aren’t necessarily concerned with appropriations including loan forgiveness and student debt. He added that continued advocacy is important to make sure that the university doesn’t lose additional funds in the future.

“Being flat-funded is a good thing, but at the same time we want to avoid the possibility of losing additional funds somewhere down the road if the governor were to be reelected,” Lopez said.

Sean Carlin can be reached at sean.carlin@temple.edu or on Twitter @SeanCarlin84.

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