Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Eating The Seed Corn
The governor's proposed budget also would affect school districts across the state. Pittsburgh Public Schools estimated its loss at $34.1 million. Mr. Corbett also called for a public school employee wage freeze and sought greater freedom to furlough teachers.
A news advisory from Penn State University called the cuts "catastrophic."
The 50 percent loss in state funding applies to the 14 state-owned universities -- including California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock -- as well as four state-related schools: the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities.
If enacted, they likely would amount to the largest single-year cut ever in American public higher education, according to the Washington D.C.-based American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
"There have been some very large proposed cuts from governors this year, but this is so far off the charts it doesn't even seem plausible," said Daniel Hurley, the association's director of state relations and policy analysis...
At Pitt, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg called the proposed cuts "stunningly deep." He said the subsidy that the governor wants to chop in half has enabled his school to keep base undergraduate tuition nearly $10,000 lower for Pennsylvanians.
"It would be virtually impossible for us to maintain the size of differential that exists today," he said. "There would have to be a very significant increase in the in-state tuition
Mr. Nordenberg said Pitt also stands to lose $9 million in biomedical research support from the tobacco settlement fund on top of more than $7.5 million in federal stimulus funding that expires this year.
Noting that Pitt attracts $800 million annually in research that supports 28,000 jobs directly or indirectly, he said the proposed budget was a "puzzling retreat" from the governor's own agenda of job creation.
"If government is here to share the taxpayer's wealth then everyone needs to share in the sacrifice," said the new governor, whose relaxed posture and shock of white hair threw off an aura of imperial calm, even as he metaphorically jabbed a budget dagger so sharp that would have made Caligula proud. "Educators, Pennsylvanians await your decision."
But there's another group that's tapping into big-time wealth - a buried treasure right here in Pennsylvania -- that isn't facing those kinds of tough decision that causes a pay-frozen schoolteacher's family to cut back on groceries or cancel a weekend down the shore.
That would be the economically booming, mostly out-of-state natural gas companies and their multi-millionaire CEOs, who continue to rapidly expand their aggressive form of drilling known as hydrofracking, or simply "fracking," across large swaths of upstate Pennsylvania. The companies take in hundreds of millions of dollars without paying any dedicated Pennsylvania tax -- even as such levies are imposed in the other 14 of the top 15 gas-producing states, even in red-state bastions of free-market libertarianism like Dick Cheney's native Wyoming and George W. Bush's Texas.
In a remarkable coincidence, 2010 gubernatorial candidate Corbett received a whopping $835,720 from oil-and-natural gas interests, including his largest single contributor - Marcellus Shale driller Terry Pegula and his wife Kim, who gave $305,000 to the Republican's campaign at the same time Pegula was selling his exploration firm to Royal Dutch Shell and pocketing a $3 billion check. Indeed, Corbett's career in elective Pennsylvania politics was launched in 2004 when an Oklahoma gas driller - Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy - funneled most of the dollars for an eye-popping $480,000 donation that went to Corbett's attorney general campaign from an obscure GOP fund.