Both Democrats, GOP balk at Pa. education cuts

    Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing back against Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal to cut 50 percent of the State System of Higher Education’s funding.

    When Chancellor John Cavanaugh testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee, nearly every member of the panel voiced opposition to the cuts. According to the Allentown Morning Call, Democrat John Wozniak told Cavanaugh, “It’s obvious that you have a sympathetic [committee] here… We’ll redouble our efforts to see what we can do for these schools.”

    Republican Tommy Tomlinson made similar comments, according to the paper, saying, “There are some departments that are not getting hit as hard as higher education. Our job now is to go into the expenditures and find out where to get the money.”

    Privately, top Democrats and Republicans say the decrease from $503 million to $232 million goes too far, and that they expect the final budget to reduce higher ed funding by 10 to 20 percent, instead of the current 50 percent level.

    Corbett has indicated he’s willing to restore more college and university funding, as long as the total budget stays below $27.3 billion.

    “We have to see where – what the Legislature would propose, and how they would propose it. So – this is the opening round. As I think I have said to many of you before, the first quarter’s over,” he recently said. “We’re in the second quarter. And we will be talking to the Legislature.”

    He told reporters he recommended the cuts. Higher ed “is a place where there was money. That’s No. 1. It is a place to start a discussion as to what should be our role,” said Corbett. “And certainly there has been some outward discussion about that.”

    Detailed negotiations are expected to begin in May, once Pennsylvania’s April revenue figures are in.

    Cavanaugh said state system schools have done their part to keep costs in line.

    “Over the last seven or eight years, we have reduced our costs by over $200 million dollars,” he said. “We’ve done personnel reductions. We’ve held positions vacant. We’ve increased class size. We’ve done retirement incentive programs.”

    The 14 schools have also done their best to keep tuition hikes in line with inflation, he said. In-state tuition this year is, on average, $5,804 at the schools.

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