Corman: Lawmakers Need to Hear Corbett's Vision for Higher Education
State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, has major concerns for state higher-education funding but thinks it's important that lawmakers hear "all visions" for the budget category, he said Tuesday.
"Ultimately, I would be for more funding for higher education," Corman said. But he added that lawmakers need to work within the context of state budget realities and to "let the governor articulate his vision for higher education."
"He's given us the numbers," though state senators and representatives have yet to hear the governor's vision -- his complete rationale -- behind his higher-education funding proposal, Corman said.
Corman chairs the influential Senate Appropriations Committee.
In his budget proposal released Tuesday, Corbett proposed cutting state support for higher education roughly in half. At Penn State -- deep in the geographic and economic heart of Corman's district -- that would reduce state funding by some $182 million, according to the university.
Penn State has said the proposal would have catastrophic and far-reaching consequences at the university, including layoffs, program cuts and substantial tuition increases. It would cut from about eight percent to about four percent the portion of the Penn State budget supported by state money.
University President Graham Spanier is expected to appear at a press conference on the matter Wednesday morning. He has said that he'll fight the proposed reduction.
But Corbett, in his budget address, called the state's current fiscal crisis "a time to rethink state spending on higher education."
"Despite state subsidies over the past decades, tuition has continued to increase," Corbett said. "If the intent was to keep tuition rates down, it failed. We need to find a new model. When it comes to higher education, we should do the same thing that we do in basic education: The dollars should follow the student. It's their money."
Corman said he thinks Corbett's overall budget proposal reflects "the economic times that we're in." It includes no tax increases and a three percent total cut in state spending.
"All in all, he had a tough task to perform, and I thought he did it well," Corman said.
On the higher-education front, he said, university and college leaders will have a chance to articulate "exactly what the ramifications of such a budget cut would be" during upcoming state budget hearings.
Ultimate, Corman said, lawmakers will negotiate with Corbett on the 2011-2012 budget -- including higher-education funding. The budget is expected to be finalized by this summer.
"I think there are many members of the General Assembly, including myself, who will look to give a lot of attention to higher education," Corman said. Asked whether he will lobby for Penn State funding beyond what Corbett proposed, he said: "Let's go through the process" of budget hearings.
Corman said he would encourage university leaders "to come out and be very specific about what this (proposal) means. That's how we have to make public-policy decisions."
Lawmakers need to hear the specific consequences of the budget proposal so that they can make the best decisions, Corman said.
Across the Capitol, state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, found Corbett's proposed education-funding cuts "very troubling," said his chief of staff, Tor Michaels.
"Hopefully, there will be a bipartisan effort to try to correct what we feel is a very troubling trend in education cuts," Michaels said. " ... We would like to see Penn State's funding whole."
Spanier is scheduled to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee and the House Appropriations Committee on March 28. The presidents of the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University -- the other state-related schools in Pennsylvania -- are expected to join him.