Higher Ed Takes Big Hit

It was inevitable that some state agencies and programs were going to take a hit in Governor Corbett’s budget proposal with the state facing a $4 billion deficit and a new governor who ran on a no tax pledge. Higher education took it on the chin.

In his March 8 budget address, the governor is asking the General Assembly to reduce the line item amount that goes to the State System for Higher Education by half. This means big cuts for the four state related universities, Penn State, Temple, Pittsburgh and Lincoln, if lawmakers agree to the funding reductions.

Overall, the $27.3 billion proposal accounts for three percent less in spending over the current fiscal year. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Another hard hit agency is the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). The agency’s budget – if the General Assembly agrees to the changes – will be reduced by 32 percent, or $114 million.

“The budget introduced today represents a completely new way of doing business for DCED and its economic development partners,” said acting Secretary C. Alan Walker in a statement issued after the address. “The DCED of old was a maze of separate programs, challenging for businesses to navigate and costly for the state to administer.”

Under the governor’s plan, the number of development programs will plummet from 127 to 56.

The governor said that DCED too often in the past funded "nice to have" programs with political benefits for the lawmakers whose projects were funded.

"Where once there were 127 programs there are now 56. … We’re looking for new jobs, not votes,” he said in his address.

Not all state programs are cut under the governor’s plan. The spending plan increases state public welfare spending by nearly $608 million.

The governor said the additional spending is being driven by a growth in the populations served by the state’s medical and cash assistance programs.

For their parts, Democratic legislative leaders criticized the plan as "balancing the budget on the backs of children and working families.” But the Democrats’ role in negotiations over the budget will be minimal. With strong majorities in both the House and Senate, the Republicans control both the committee and floor process.