Corbett proposes 30 percent cut to state-related funding

By Gwenn Barney

Another proposed budget, another blow to higher education.

Gov. Tom… Another proposed budget, another blow to higher education.

Gov. Tom Corbett announced on Tuesday his $27.4 billion state budget proposal, which slashed spending and suggested cutting Pitt’s state funding by 30 percent — from $136 million to $95.2 million — for the coming fiscal year.

“One of our core functions is to provide for education at several levels, starting with our youngest. We have less money than I would like, so we must adapt,” Corbett said in his annual budget address.

The proposed cuts to higher education mark the biggest percentage cut in Corbett’s 2012-2013 budget, which aims to reduce spending without raising taxes. This year’s proposed budget is an $866 million reduction from the 2011-2012 budget.

Last year, Corbett proposed a 50 percent cut to state support for the four state-related universities, although the final budget passed with only a 19 percent chop to the funding of Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln. To help fill the resulting $40 million budget gap, Pitt raised in-state tuition by 8.5 percent and out-of-state tuition by 4 percent.

The state-related universities were also hit by a spending freeze in January that reduced Pitt’s yearly expenditures by 5 percent.

On Tuesday, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg released a statement that, while acknowledging the need to make difficult sacrifices in drafting the state budget, said the University would be unfairly affected by the proposed cuts.

“And what we must resist — not only for ourselves but for the many who depend upon us — are disproportionately deep cuts that threaten our ability to continue making critical contributions, either to deserving individuals or to a vibrant, more productive society,” he said.

In the statement, Nordenberg included a message to the Pitt community about what’s to come as the budget process develops.

“This is just the beginning of the state’s budget-building process. We now will move through legislative hearings and will seek to advance our case in other settings as well. Knowing the daunting challenge that we now face, we need to build upon the outstanding advocacy efforts undertaken by students, faculty, staff and alumni during the budget-building process last year,” he said.

The chancellor also noted in the statement that the University will fashion its operating budget for the next fiscal year according to the proposed funding cuts.

Of the four state-related universities, three will see cuts under the proposed budget.

In addition to Pitt’s reduction, the state budget would cut $64.2 million from Penn State’s funding and $41.9 million from Temple’s. Lincoln University will receive $11.2 million, the same it received last year.

The proposed budget also includes a 20 percent cut in funding for the State System of Higher Education, which includes Pennsylvania’s 14 state schools.

Corbett explained in the address the necessity of his “lean and demanding” budget as an alternative to taxation.

“We will not raise taxes,” Corbett said. “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 is one less dollar in the sector that creates real prosperity.”

Aside from budget line items, Corbett announced the formation of a Higher Education Advisory Panel. Nordenberg will serve as one of 30 members, the rest of whom will include other university administrators, educators and prominent business leaders.

The Board’s roles will include reviewing education policies, examining how to make higher education more affordable for students and taxpayers and looking into “how higher education can increase collaboration with the private sector and government,” according to a press release issued by Corbett’s office.

In his statement, Nordenberg expressed optimism that the panel’s work could result in an end to higher-education funding cuts.

“One can never predict how a group process ultimately will unfold, and it certainly would have been far better if the commission announced by the governor had been at work before we were targeted for such deep and disproportionate cuts to our state funding. Still, if the commission lives up to its potential, it could shape the face of public higher education in Pennsylvania for years to come,” he said.

State General Assembly representatives for the Oakland community were quick to state their opposition to the governor’s budget. State Sens. Jim Ferlo and Jay Costa, both D-Pittsburgh, were unavailable for comment but did release statements opposing the governor’s budget proposal.

Democratic state Rep. Dan Frankel, whose 23rd District includes Pitt as well as Carlow, CMU and Chatham, said that higher education is crucial for the economic vitality of his district.

“The University of Pittsburgh has been an enormous economic engine that has shielded western Pennsylvania from the worst of the recession by being a consistent job creator,” he said.

Frankel also said he was worried about cuts to public education in the proposed budget, as well as about the state of public transportation in the western part of the state, which he described as in “crisis.”

Frankel called for advocates of higher education to campaign for sources of revenue — such as a higher tax on Marcellus Shale drilling than the one that passed the state Senate Tuesday — as a solution to the budget cuts.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, whose 42nd District encompasses parts of Pittsburgh and the surrounding municipalities, also opposes the proposed education cuts.

“It’s not good news,” Fontana said. “It’s only reasonable to think that higher tuition will also happen this year going forward. What we plan to do is to be a voice for all of you [at Pitt]. We’re screaming and kicking and scratching. But the strategy is also for those of you in universities out there to get involved and be a voice also.”

SGB President James Landreneau said that in recent weeks, his organization has already gotten a head start on following Fontana’s advice.

Over the past few weeks, Landreneau has attended meetings with members of Pitt’s Government Relations Office to plan reactive steps to Corbett’s proposed cuts.

“We want to promote more student feedback and encourage more students to attend Pitt Day in Harrisburg,” Landreneau said about the rally planned for March 13.

The SGB president also said that other plans are in the works, such as a collaborative letter-writing campaign in conjunction with Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and College of General Studies, measures to spread Pitt students’ personal stories and efforts to meet with all Pitt clubs to generate support.

In addition to the cuts to higher education, the proposed budget includes the dismissal of 1,550 state workers, a $1.5 billion dollar cut to public education, a $24.1 million cut to conservation and natural resources and a $5.3 million cut to the funding of agriculture, among other trimmings.

The budget includes significant increases for public welfare, which will receive a $607.7 million funding increase. The increase will go toward medical assessment and care for mental health and intellectual disabilities. But within the same department of public welfare, funding will simultaneously be cut from; child welfare, cash grants and child development.

Military and Veterans Affairs and state police could also see increases of $19.7 million and $10 million, respectively, in their funding under Corbett’s proposed budget.

For the first time in 10 years, no significant funding increase is planned for the Department of Corrections.