Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett outlined his 2013-14 budget proposal for the General Assembly on Tuesday, which includes flat funding for state universities after university presidents pledged to keep tuition costs down.
Penn State received $279 million total in state appropriations in the 2012-13 budget, according to its operating budget posted online. That's equal to the state appropriations in its 2011-12 budget.
Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre and chair of the Senate Appropriations committee, said the unveiling of Corbett's budget proposal is the beginning of a process. He said he's pleased with the governor’s plans to invest in transportation infrastructure and higher education.
"I'm glad he struck a deal with university presidents to continue strong funding for the universities," Corman said. "That's a good thing for students."
Corbett's budget proposal would give more than $1.6 billion to higher education programs, including $345 million to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency to provide grants for students who need financial assistance, according to the state Budget in Brief.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson said via email that the flat funding comes at the recommendation of the governor’s Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education — which also recommended the state rebuild its financial support for higher education in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Penn State would like to see an increase in its appropriation in the future, Erickson said, but he recognizes that the state’s economy is still recovering from the recession. Penn State will keep operating costs low to keep tuition down, Erickson said.
“We are working toward another year of very modest tuition increases, which will help to keep the doors of a Penn State educational experience as affordable as possible for Pennsylvania students,” Erickson said.
This is the second year in a row that funding for Penn State's Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension will remain level, at $44.7 million, under Corbett's budget proposal. When Corbett proposed the current state budget, the funding for Penn State's Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension remained the same as it had in the 2011-12 budget.
Both Erickson and Corman said they want to secure additional funding for the Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension, which receives no tuition money. Another year of flat funding would cause more program reductions, Erickson said.
He will appear at the state House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 25 and at the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 28 to field questions and argue for state funding, according to a press release issued via Penn State Live.
Tor Michaels, chief of staff for Rep. Scott Conklin, D-77, said Conklin will be “zeroing in” on education as the budget hearings proceed.
“Penn State has been going through such a tumultuous time that we think the state should recommit itself to higher education in general,” Michaels said. “We’ll be fighting like a lion into this coming year to make sure education is a priority in this budget.”
Corbett said he wants to use potential revenue from the proposed privatization of liquor to invest in basic education.
“Selling liquor is not a core function of government. Education is,” Corbett said.
The sale of Pennsylvania liquor stores would generate $1 billion, according to the Budget in Brief. That would fund $200 million in grants to school districts during the 2014-15 year, which the districts could use for school safety and specific academic initiatives.
Michaels said Conklin believes privatizing liquor is a bad idea that will provide only a one-time cash infusion.
Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-171, said the government shouldn’t be in the liquor business. Privatizing liquor will provide more sources of revenue in a tough economy, and education is a worthy investment, he said.
Corman said he’s not opposed to the idea of privatization, but he wants to know how it’s going to affect consumers’ costs, selection and convenience before taking a position.
Corbett’s proposal also includes investments in transportation, which the governor called “the bloodstream of our economy.”
Corman said he’s been advocating for transportation funding for a couple of years. One of his main areas of interest is Route 322 from State College to Potters Mills, which he said is dangerous and that commuters should have a safer route to travel.