House GOP proposes alternate budget to Corbett

By Andrew Shull

The Pennsylvania House GOP introduced a budget proposal on Tuesday that calls for a 25 percent… The Pennsylvania House GOP introduced a budget proposal on Tuesday that calls for a 25 percent reduction to the University’s funding, nearly half of what Corbett proposed more than two months ago. The Republican Governor called for a 52 percent cut that would reduce funding to the University of Pittsburgh from $168 million to $80 million.

Corbett’s budget would impose similar cuts on the other three Pennsylvania state-related universities, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln.

“We are a caucus that believes in education, and we put our money where our mouth is,” chairman of the House Appropriations Committee William Adolph, R-Delaware, said at a press conference in Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania Health Republican Caucus released a video of the press conference on their Facebook page after the budget proposal on Tuesday..

Pitt students and administrators have protested the proposed cuts since Corbett introduced them in early March. Chancellor Mark Nordenberg testified in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee to voice his opposition to the cuts, and the Student Government Board has been active in protesting as well. SGB organized a Pitt Day in Harrisburg where more than 350 students attended to voice their opinions to legislators on the importance of funding for Pitt.

Pitt spokesman John Fedele said in a statement yesterday, “The Republican proposal for the Commonwealth budget is a major improvement for Pennsylvania students, their families and Pennsylvania’s public research universities. There is still a long way to go in the budget process, but we are hopeful that positive developments will continue.”

The House Republicans’ plan would mitigate the cuts from education by making much larger cuts to welfare spending.

The House GOP plan would cut an additional $470 million to the Department of Public Welfare from Corbett’s budget proposal. Corbett’s proposal already calls for a $607 million reduction from Public Welfare, making the total proposed cuts just over $1 billion.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, also spoke at the press conference. He characterized the cuts on the Department of Public Welfare as an attack on wasteful spending.

“With respect to the Governor’s proposal, yes, we are putting less into welfare, but that’s because waste, fraud and abuse has to be rooted out,” he said.

Neither the House Republicans nor Corbett would be open to raising existing taxes or introducing new ones.

Both proposed budgets would spend $27.3 billion, a 3 percent reduction from last year’s budget total.

House Republicans stressed that their budget would come in on time and not increase taxes or include any borrowing.

The informationthat Pitt’s funding might not be cut as drastically as previously thought came as good news to some Pitt students. Others said they weren’t following the budget news too closely.

One student who is following the news is economics graduate student Ray Miller. Miller said that he has a full-tuition scholarship, so he wouldn’t be as directly affected by the cuts as other students would.

Miller said he preffered tax increases rather than cutting funds to the Department of Public Welfare or education spending, given the choice. Though neither would be a perfect situation, he said.

Another Pitt student who has ties to both education and public welfare spending is senior Lauren Arnita, a social work major.

Arnita said that she was “very much disturbed” by Corbett’s plan to cut funding to the state-related institutions because, as an in-state student, she would be directly affected by it. Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said during a news conference in March that Pitt will definitely have to increase tuition with the proposed budget cuts.

But she said she would only support the cuts to the Department of Public Welfare if they were made to programs that she thought could absorb them. Public Welfare programs that could face cuts are include Medicaid, Food Stamps, and various housing programs.

One proposed solution to the budget crisis is taxing the natural gas industry, but Arnita characterized that plan as a “double-edged sword.” She thought it could negatively affect the people working in the drilling industry, even though it would provide revenue for the state.

One motion she unequivocally said she supported was cuts to legislators’ salaries. She said this conviction developed after she attended Pitt Day in Harrisburg, where students get the opportunity to lobby members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and observed legislators on Facebook and asleep while in session.