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Pa. House to Vote on Penn State Funding Today

At long last, after months of standstill and political mudslinging, Penn State could finally receive its state appropriation today. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is expected to vote on so-called “non-preferred” bills to fund Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities (Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln) when it convenes today at 11 a.m.

The bill would provide more than $244 million to Penn State in general support for this year’s budget and for the Pennsylvania College of Technology. Lawmakers have still not passed a state budget, which usually occurs in the summer or early fall, for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. This is more than a $12 million increase from last year’s appropriation. Neither of those figures include the Agricultural College Land Scrip Fund or funding for the Hershey Medical Center, which made up $58 million last year and count toward Penn State’s full appropriation. It is not yet clear if funding for those entities (which are included in separate bills) will be considered on today’s House agenda.

A similar vote narrowly failed to receive the necessary two-thirds vote in December, with all Democrats aside from Scott Conklin, who represents State College, voting against releasing funding for Penn State. All but one Republican voted to release funding, as the bill failed 116-75 — a mere 11 votes short. Votes on non-preferred bills require a two-thirds majority to pass. The Democratic Caucus did not want to release funding for higher education without having a full budget in place with Governor Tom Wolf’s tax plan included and without K-12 funding. Multiple deals between the two political parties since Governor Wolf released his initial budget proposal more than a year ago have fallen through.

“Let’s release the hostages,” House Majority Leader Dave Reed said at the time, referring to the four state-related universities, “and let’s move on to a better day in this state.”

The situation appears now seems graver than ever before. Provost Nick Jones testified in Harrisburg two weeks ago and relayed the tough situation Penn State finds itself in with a $300 million shortfall. President Eric Barron has indicated that without the state appropriation by May Penn State’s Ag Extension offices would need to close around the state. Academic departments and other groups on campus have tightened their belts recently on non-essential expenses, like travel.

“The power of the land-grant mission is that it serves the Commonwealth. Penn State’s position as Pennsylvania’s sole agricultural university is fundamental to our foundation, along with providing access to an affordable, top-flight education for our citizens and driving the Commonwealth’s economy,” President Barron said at the last Board of Trustees meeting. “If there is not quick action to restore funding for these vital programs, the 150-year-long partnership between Penn State and Pennsylvania will be forever changed.”

PASS, a student government conglomerate of the four state-related institutions, released this statement urging lawmakers to approve the appropriations:

Today, Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives will be voting on funding our state-related institutions once more after months of a political standstill. Together, the student bodies of Lincoln, University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, and Temple University, have worked together to demand that our legislators take action and that they be held accountable for the aftershocks of not investing in the Commonwealth’s students. We see today’s vote as progress and a prime opportunity for our elected officials to transcend party lines and prove that higher education is a priority to them. Our hope is that despite past disagreements, Democrats and Republicans will vote YES without playing the blame game.

We urge students across the Commonwealth to call their legislators today to vote YES on funding Pennsylvania’s universities and to use the #PassIt to spread awareness of the critical vote.

The full appropriations bill being considered today is below:

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