Corbett defends cuts in Pennsylvania higher-education budget

Posted: February 15, 2012

Gov. Corbett toured a Malvern factory powered by state-of-the-art robotics Tuesday, then hit the automatic-reset button on a replay of the state university tuition wars that dominated the battle over his first budget proposal last year.

Corbett insisted to reporters during his tour of the high-tech Siemens Medical Solutions plant that his 2012-13 plan for a steep new cuts in state aid to higher education - including 30 percent less money to state-backed schools such as Pennsylvania State and Temple Universities - could be dealt with by reducing campus operating costs, not by raising tuition.

"It's incumbent upon the people of Pennsylvania to call on [these colleges] to control the cost of education," he said.

The governor's proposed $27.1 billion budget calls for no tax increases, deep cuts to higher education, and a range of cost-saving measures in services for the poor, elderly, and disabled.

"A lot of people are upset at spending at that level, but that's all the money that we have," he said, reiterating his vow not to raise taxes.

Perhaps the most glaring cuts are a proposed reduction of about $230 million, or an average of 25 percent, for state universities. The cuts affect not only Penn State and Temple, but also the University of Pittsburgh and the State System of Higher Education, which governs 14 state colleges and universities, including West Chester and Cheyney.

A year ago, the schools' funding was cut almost 20 percent.

Community colleges would see a 4 percent cut and grants administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency would get a 6 percent cut.

Just like last year, some of the state's biggest universities are ready to fight to maintain state support.

In a statement, Temple President Ann Weaver Hart said the North Philadelphia school had already cut operating costs $76 million over three years and urged the public to stand behind it.

"If approved by the General Assembly, this reduction in support will be felt by every student, parent, and employee," she said.

Corbett noted that his proposed cuts amount to a small reduction in overall operating budgets for the state's biggest public universities - 1.6 percent for Penn State, 1.8 percent for Temple, 2.1 percent for the University of Pittsburgh, and 3.8 percent for the 14 schools in the state system.

Corbett said he had asked Siemens executives whether they could reduce their operating costs 1.8 percent if they had to, and their answer was yes.

Colleges have to do the same thing rather than raise tuition, he said.

"President Obama said we have to decrease the cost of higher education. I agree with him on that."

He noted that the state gave Penn State $3 billion over a 10-year period when tuition grew 110 percent.

"Clearly, giving them more money wouldn't stop tuition increases," he said.

He argued that the state had to be run more like a private business - like Siemens, in fact - to create more jobs and cut costs.

"We can't continue to raise our prices," he said, referring to college costs. "If Siemens kept increasing prices, they would make themselves uncompetitive."


Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.

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