Though some legislators strongly oppose them, buzz about cuts for state-related institutions, including Temple and Penn State, continues in Harrisburg.
The $29 billion state budget proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell, which does not provide any change in allotted funds for state-related universities for the third consecutive year, is expected to go to vote in the House this week.
Temple is expected to receive a total of $172.7 million from the state, which includes $7.7 million from federal stimulus funds. The budget is expected to fund more than 20 percent of Temple’s operating budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, according to Senior Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Ken Lawrence Jr.
“As we face another year of potential level funding, we will continue our longstanding effort to control costs, and do all that we can to keep tuition increases as low as possible,” Lawrence said.
President Ann Weaver Hart and other representatives for the state-related universities, including President Graham Spanier of Penn State University, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg of the University of Pittsburgh, and President Ivory Nelsonmet of Lincoln University, met with both the State Senate and House Appropriations Committees last month.
Due to economic conditions, the amount of funding available for state-related universities has been reassessed and the university leaders are being asked to make a case for why their funding should be continued, Chairman of the House of Education Committee James Roebuck, Jr., D-Philadelphia, said.
State House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, reportedly caused controversy during a hearing when he said he was “surprised” state-related universities were receiving any funds from the state during this economy.
“It’s a matter of time that you may not be receiving any appropriation from this state,” Evans further predicted during the meeting.
Erik Arneson, spokesman of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Ninth, said if the state were to eliminate funding in the future, the action would be “absurd.” He also said funding supporters were at a “loss for words” after hearing Evans’ comments.
“We are pushing for more funding in a very difficult year, budget-wise,” Arneson said. “It would be crazy to stop funding for the universities that mean so much to our culture and society.”
Some students were advocates for more funding.
“I would hate to see a rise in tuition, but at the same time I know that every other state school is going through the same thing,” junior English major Marie Pirnom said.
Johnna Pro, a spokeswoman for Evans, said state-related universities may not always receive funding in the future due to budget constraints and the state of the economy.
“The state understands the benefits and educational value that the state-related universities provide, but the state is not obligated to fund them,” Pro said. “The presidents of state-related universities need to understand the economic situation [in] Pennsylvania.”
Since Temple and other state-related universities are not under “absolute control of the Commonwealth” and are considered non-preferred appropriations in the budget, a two-thirds vote by each the House and the General Assembly is required to pass their funds, according to the Web site for the state budget office.
Gary Tuma, press secretary for Rendell, said in a statement the state would be making budget cuts in every area this year, “With the state of the economy, [the budget] becomes a competition for public funding,” Tuma said. “Unfortunately we had to make some cuts.”
However, not all politicians agree state-related universities will be shorted in the future.
“There is a widespread recognition for the importance of having strong universities in the state while still being affordable for students and families,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman, R-34th, said.
Arneson, spokesman for the Senate Republicans, continued to stress the disagreement regarding the governor’s view toward funding higher education and how he may being giving basic education too much attention — K-12 education is slated to receive about 35 percent of the general fund budget in the next year while higher education is only to receive about 7 percent.
Temple students expressed concern about the possibility of their tuition rising.
“Temple is a great school no matter what,” junior public health major Abid Iqbal said. “For the most part I would say Temple is a fairly cheap school in Philadelphia compared to a lot of other schools.”
Lawrence said Temple has always been dedicated to providing students access to a quality education at the lowest cost possible.
“We will continue to make our case to the governor and the General Assembly that sustained investment in our students is of critical importance even in these difficult times,” he said.
Connor Showalter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.