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At Grange Fair, Corbett Reflects on Penn State Funding Situation

on August 27, 2011 8:45 AM

About two months since state leaders finalized a 19 percent appropriation cut for Penn State, is Gov. Tom Corbett satisfied with how the university has handled its decline in support?

That was one of several education-related questions that reporters asked Corbett on Friday evening, when the governor visited the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair, in Centre Hall.

"I don't know how you could say I would be satisfied one way or the other," Corbett said. "I was facing a budget deficit of $4.2 billion, and we had to cut funding from every different segment" aside from state prisons and state police.

The Department of Welfare and education budgets are the state's two biggest areas of spending, Corbett went on.

"We made recommended cuts knowing that you when get into (budget negotiations), that's not going to be the final number," he said. "The Legislature came down, they worked through it, and we reached an accommodation. I don't think anybody's satisfied when you have to cut, but we have to get our fiscal house in order. We have to tighten our belts."

His comments concerning Penn State marked a tone lighter than what he struck in March, when, appearing on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh, he accused the university of using scare tactics.

Initially, for the 2011-'12 year, Corbett had proposed a state-funding cut of just more than 50 percent for Penn State. University President Graham Spanier quickly replied that such a proposal, if approved, would mean a combination of tuition increases and cost cuts at Penn State.

That's when Corbett, talking to KDKA on March 11, said:"I can't tell you how I stunned I am by the reaction particularly from State College. The first thing they said is, this (means) tuition increases. ... That was stunning that they would scare the children and parents of Pennsylvania."

Ultimately, by late June, lawmakers negotiated a final appropriation cut of about 19 percent -- or $68 million overall -- for Penn State. The university is balancig its budget largely by implementing tuition increases of 2.9 percent to 4.9 percent and by slimming some expenses. Those expense reductions include scores of job losses and some targeted programming changes.

Back at the Grange Fair on Friday, Corbett said in general terms that he is "satisfied that people (in education are) working at getting their costs under control." He reiterated his earlier-stated concern that Penn State tuition rates have climbed about 110 percent over the past decade -- a period during which the university received $3.5 billion in state support.

"If I'm a parent, I'm going to look (and say), 'W-w-wait a second. That's a lot of money,'" Corbett said of the tuition increases.

But university leaders are "working on it," Corbett said.

"We need to (focus on) availability of education for everyone -- not just (those in) college," he said. " ... Frankly, we have a number of people who go into college but then eventually change and go into a trade."

He said commonwealth institutions need "to do a better job of educating people for the workforce of today and tomorrow, not for the workforce of yesterday. ... We need to look and see where the jobs are."

Corbett underscored that an estimated 70,000 new jobs are in the Marcellus Shale industry, though a lot of workers have not been trained for it. "We've got to help them with that training" through community colleges, CareerLink and other practical education, such as that offered through Penn State, he said.

"It's important for me that when people come out of their education, they're trained for jobs that are available today," Corbett added.

He took several questions from reporters at the fair before resuming a meet-and-greet session with the general public. The governor toured much of the fairgrounds, which he has visited on several occasions before. (He's said to have a taste for the broasted chicken.)

At the county Republicans' tent, Corbett visited with local political luminaries including state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township; U.S. Rep. Glenn "G.T." Thompson, R-Howard; and Joyce Haas, of Patton Township, the vice-chair of the state GOP. Corbett also made a stop at the nearby county Democrats' tent.

His favorite part of the fair, he told C-NET, is meeting people.

"This is so unique," Corbett said of the Grange Fair, noting its residential tent city. He also called the fair a source of economic development for the county.

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