Pa. House Approves Penn State Funding, Wolf Pledges Veto
It’s nine months into the fiscal year and Penn State is still operating without any support from the state. The university is now one step closer to getting its state appropriation after a 137-51 vote in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to approve a $225 million general appropriation reached the 2/3 majority required for approval on Wednesday afternoon. The General Appropriations bill also passed with a similar margin, providing $50.5 million to Penn State College of Ag Sciences for agricultural research and extension programs. Penn State is looking at a 5 increase from last year’s appropriation.
It’s not a done deal quite yet, however. Governor Tom Wolf has promised to veto the new overall budget, which includes the Penn State appropriations, because it does not include the proposed tax increases to balance the budget. Wolf released a statement on his website shortly after the vote affirming his intent to veto.
“The math in the latest version still does not work,” Wolf’s statement reads. “Even using the Republicans’ questionable math and assumptions, the budget creates a $1.6 billion deficit that will prompt massive cuts to education, teacher layoffs, higher property taxes, and cuts to vital programs for seniors. This budget not only does nothing to address Pennsylvania’s challenges, but by continuing to kick the can down the road, it further exacerbates our problems.”
It puts Governor Wolf, who took down Governor Tom Corbett by nearly 10 points more than a year ago on the promise of restoring his severe budget cuts to higher education, in a tough position. Penn State has only a few months left in the fiscal year and, while Corbett significantly cut Penn State’s appropriation, it was certainly more than the $0 Penn State has now under the Wolf administration (Penn State approved a $0 in-state tuition increase in good faith to receive increased appropriations). Wolf’s interest in getting a balanced budget with his initiatives in it is obviously his desire, but at this point in the fiscal year, it’s fair to ask: At what cost?
All in all, 23 Democrats voted for the Penn State Appropriations bill and all but one Republican voted for it. A veto override would need 134 votes. It’s a strange year for the budget — rather than pass one large budget, a series of supplemental bills that make up the budget will come to Governor Wolf’s desk. He is expected to veto all of them, rather than pick and choose.
“If he (Wolf) vetoes the whole thing, then I would expect an override to be quickly scheduled,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader David Reed, to PennLive.
It’s apparent that some members of the Democratic caucus are breaking ranks, especially out of a dire need for public K-12 schools to be funded. Twenty-one Democrats voted for the Penn State appropriations bill this time that did not when this came up in January.
“As important as structural deficits are….and there is a commitment from this side to continue to work on that issue,” said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, who represents State College, to PennLive’s Charlie Thompson. “it pales in comparison to the decisions parents are going to have to make if their schools are closed. It pales in comparison to the decision that employees are going to have to make — Are they going to work without pay? That’s the real life decision that’s going to happen if we do not pass this budget, and the governor does not sign it.”