No Signs of Compromise Between Pa. House Lawmakers Over Funding for State Related Universities
HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - State funding for Pennsylvania's four-state related-universities is still up in the air for the current fiscal year, as the budget impasse continues.
Separate from the Pa. State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), the four state related universities (Penn State University, Temple University, University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University) have traditionally received state funding in previous budgets. However, funding increases for the four schools in this year’s budget have House lawmakers deadlocked.
Although both chambers approved a budget, the nearly three-week impasse continues with no signs of compromise. Lawmakers left Harrisburg earlier this month and are not scheduled back until the fall. The budget still needs a signature from the Senate before it can be sent to Gov. Shapiro. A series of code bills also need to be approved. Caught in the midst of the impasse and deadlock, is funding for state related universities.
“I think if we're giving over half a billion dollars to four institutions, they should be able to hold the line on spending. If you're willing to take taxpayer money, the expectation is you hold the line on behalf of your students and control your costs,” said Representative Seth Grove (R-York), Minority Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
House Democrats are ready to move forward with a $640 million increase for the four universities, but Grove and House Republicans are not.
“The House Democrats' position is pretty simple: ‘We just want to throw money at problems and not actually fix anything.’ You know, tuition was going up, they didn't care. They don't do anything about it. They're not fighting to reduce tuition,” said Grove.
Having support from enough Republicans in the House is crucial because the state related funding bills require a two-thirds majority. Grove says a few things need to happen before his party is ready to sign off on another funding increase.
“One, a tuition freeze for students. Two, making sure all four institutions are under the state's Right to Know Law, so we know where the money's going. Number three, proportional representation based on number of students to make sure the money is allocated towards that,” said Grove.
“Putting restrictions on any sort of funding from the state- where we should be making these investments in our institutions- is not what our role in government is. They’re premier universities, and we are very lucky to have them in our communities being a workforce as well as an education force and setting Pennsylvania aside as a place of excellent higher learning,” said Rep. Mary Isaacson (D-Philadelphia). “We can have our debates about different issues, but we certainly shouldn't be dictating to higher education institutions what they should and should not be doing,” Isaacson added.
House Democrats say Republicans had ample opportunities during their 12 years in the majority to make the changes, but chose not to. Isaacson says state dollars are traditionally given to the institutions to help keep tuition affordable for in-state residents.
“They need to be assisted so that we can keep higher education on the university premier research level affordable for students here in Pennsylvania,” said Isaacson, adding that without the increase, the universities may have to raise tuition to help offset rising costs and inflation. “These institutions did not raise their tuition rates during the pandemic. Certainly, with the rates of inflation that all of us in society are suffering through and have dealt with, these institutions have also had to deal with those costs,” said Isaacson.
At this point, lawmakers in both chambers are not scheduled to return to Harrisburg until September.