Students and unions unite over budget cuts

By Andrew Shull

Although graduating senior Phil LaRue might not be directly affected by the proposed 50 percent… Although graduating senior Phil LaRue might not be directly affected by the proposed 50 percent reduction in state funds to Pitt, he had a very personal reason to speak out yesterday against the proposed cuts.

“Two years ago, my dad lost his job. If tuition spiked by a few thousand dollars then, I wouldn’t have been able to finish school,” he said.

LaRue shared his story during a Student Government Board-organized rally on the porch of the William Pitt Union yesterday afternoon. The Board organized the rally in opposition to Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal, which would cut Pitt’s state appropriations from $167 million, to $80.2 million. The state is currently facing a $4.1 billion dollar budget gap, and Corbett has pledged not to raise taxes while cutting down on the debt.

The rally comes after weeks of protests from students and the affected schools themselves, which say that cutting dollars for education will result in steep tuition hikes and the loss of key programs.

During the rally, students, local residents and union members joined together, chanting “support our education, the future of our nation.” They also watched speeches detailing the ways in which cuts would affect members of all three groups.

“My goal was to give students a voice,” SGB President Molly Stieber said. Stieber hosted the event and encouraged attendees to sign petitions.

Demonstrators reached nowhere near the 750 people who said they were attending on the event’s Facebook page, but there was a large contingent from the city’s various unions. About 100 people in all attended the event.

Jack Shea, president of the labor councils of Allegheny and Fayette counties, said that unions and students were part of the same fight.

“The budget that just came down will have an impact on workers and our friends,” he said. He characterized the cuts as a “backdoor tax” and went on to say that “education should be the last thing we tax.”

Guillermo Perez, who works in the education department of the United Steel Workers International Union and lives in Pittsburgh, echoed Shea’s sentiments. He said that his union considers students to be workers.

Although SGB has not endorsed any political alternative to the cuts, the unions and members of other organizations advocated for higher taxes on corporations.

“The steel workers take the position that the country ain’t broke, the state ain’t broke, and that we don’t have a budget problem — we have a revenue problem,” Perez said.

LaRue agreed.

“Pennsylvania is the only state with any significant natural gas drilling that doesn’t tax that industry substantially,” he said.

An extraction tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling also came up at several points during the rally as a possible source of revenue to fund education — though Corbett has said that his no-new-tax pledge extends to natural gas companies. Corbett has received hundreds of thousands of dollars to form natural gas drilling companies’ poltical action committees, according to campaign finance data.

It was that stance that induced community member and activist Mel Packer to call Corbett, “Governor Corporate.”

Packer said during a speech that his daughter is a sophomore at Temple, which is also state-affiliated. He said that Temple was forced to eliminate her department — Latin American Studies — for budgetary reasons.

Temple held a similar rally in Philadelphia yesterday.