After Rep. John Taylor’s threats to cut millions in appropriations to Temple, legislators vote to renew 2009 money.
After weeks of anticipating a possible 45 percent tuition increase, legislators gave the green light to a bill that would appropriate $175 million in funding to Temple.
The bill was pulled by Rep. John Taylor (R-Pa.) and other lawmakers in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives August 5 in response to Temple’s decision to close Northeastern Hospital in Port Richmond.
Taylor, whose jurisdiction encompasses the hospital’s service area, said Temple officials had ignored attempts by the legislature to discuss the 18-acre property’s folding prior to the bill being pulled.
“There are only so many tools to get their attention, and that was one of them,” Taylor told The Temple News. “I represent a community that was severely impacted Temple’s decision. Their lack of cooperation was abysmal. They can’t just do what they want without a response from the community.”
Temple’s decision to close Northeastern’s doors came in March 2009 after the hospital reportedly lost $6.6 million in the 2008 fiscal year and was estimated to lose another $15
million in the 2009 fiscal year.
The general concern among community members and lawmakers is that the closing will leave hundreds of workers displaced and community members without a nearby emergency care center.
Since the funding was threatened, Taylor said cooperation from Temple administration “has been suddenly amazing,” with returned phone calls and agreements to meetings with lawmakers.
“They’re giving us a sense of how the property is going to be used, entertaining suggestions about how it should be used,” Taylor said. “We’re not dealing with the same arrogance from the health system.”
Still, Taylor said, there’s progress to be made before Temple will be in good standing among him and his supporters, adding that many of them lie outside the legislature and within the Temple community, including select faculty, Temple Police and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.
PASNAP staff representative Jerry Silberman said the nurses union, which is made up of about a third of Temple University Health System workers, “fully supports Rep. John Taylor in his negotiations to hold Temple accountable to its public mission in order to receive state funding.”
Campus Safety Services Executive Director Carl Bittenbender said Temple Police as an entity does not support Taylor’s mission.
University officials urged students to contact their legislators and petition the funding cut. At the time of press, the university’s petition, “Fight for the Cherry and the White,” boasted just less than 9,000 signatures.
“There has been tremendous support from students, from parents, from alumni and from employees of the university in helping to build our case so that the representatives in Harrisburg understand Temple’s value,” said Ray Betzner, vice president of communications.
Taylor said he was impressed with the effort put forth by students and alumni, but that it would not affect the vote’s outcome.
“[Members of my caucus] have heard the forum, but they’ve responded in many cases saying the administration better wake up and cooperate and do what’s right,” Taylor said. “In other words, [students] aren’t going to bully the legislature with an e-mail that says ‘don’t raise my tuition.’”
The preliminary approval of the bill came as temporary relief to students who feared the potential $5,000 tuition increase; however, the funding will not be finalized until the Commonwealth budget passes.
“The loss of the Commonwealth’s support would be a devastating move that would have a dramatic impact on the university’s students, employees and alumni,” said Ken Lawrence Jr., senior vice president for government, community and public affairs, in an e-mail.
Lawrence added that in addition to the tuition increase, the funding cut could potentially cause job cutbacks, a reduction in research and the elimination of projects that could make Temple an economic engine for the Commonwealth.
Although Temple is a state-affiliated school, the annual appropriation is never guaranteed, Taylor said.
“For the first time, we threatened the appropriation,” Taylor said. “Only Temple’s cooperation would make an impact on that vote, and they know that.”
Betzner said all university effort has been geared toward making sure the State General Assembly understands that Temple’s mission is to educate students.
“The students are the core reason why we have an institution,” Betzner said. “And we have been working very, very hard to make that case in Harrisburg.”
But Taylor insists that rather than students being the central aspect of the issue, it is the university that carries the weight.
“There is no more of an active advocate for Temple University as I am,” said Taylor, a 1984 graduate of the Beasley School of Law. “You can see that from the flag in my office, to the photos, to the degree. But [Temple] can’t just lower their heads and run straightforward. And I think they understand that now.”
Maria Zankey can be reached at maria.zankey@temple.