By Lisa M. Rosellini
The proposed $18.6 billion general fund budget revealed last week by Gov. Tom Ridge disappointed University officials, who were looking for a higher level of funding to help Penn State maintain quality and hold the line on tuition.
Ridge's 1999-2000 budget plan proposes an increase of 2.5 percent in Penn State's base appropriation. Although this amounts to a $7.3 million increase, the University was seeking $21.8 million in new funds. Part of this funding was to go toward new initiatives.
In total, the governor has proposed an appropriation of $306.5 million for Penn State.
"I am disappointed in this proposal for Penn State," University President Graham B. Spanier said. "A higher level of funding is needed to help us hold the line on tuition, maintain quality in our educational programs, provide a modest salary increase to our employees, and implement the most important features of our long-range plan."
Spanier said that while Penn State appreciated the ongoing support provided by the state, the 2.5 percent increase proposed for Penn State's operating budget is even lower than the increase being proposed for the Commonwealth budget as a whole. Ridge has presented a 2.9 percent increase, or $527 million boost, to his general fund budget over last year's figures. The president also said not only was the proposed increase significantly less than what the University requested, but was also lower than the 3.25 percent increase that was provided to Penn State during the current fiscal year.
"We also asked the governor for special funding in three areas: agricultural research and cooperative extension; workforce development; and the new School of Information Sciences and Technology," Spanier said. "The governor's budget does not identify specific support for any of these initiatives, although there is an item in the budget for the state Department of Education titled 'Higher Education Technology Grants' that appears to include the possibility of some funding for our new school. We will need to learn more about the intent of these grants."
In the governor's budget, $16.5 million is earmarked for two programs that would offer scholarships to as many as 23,000 undergraduates studying science and technology, provided they work in the state after finishing their schooling.
The president remained hopeful about the new funding for information technology that he believes will "fit nicely" with Penn State's plans to launch the new school in fall 1999.
"I believe our new school will be in a unique position to have a significant impact on Pennsylvania's efforts to be a key player in the information technology arena in the coming years," Spanier said.
In the coming months, the governor and the Legislature will be involved in budget negotiations aimed at further shaping the proposed 1999-2000 fiscal blueprint. Under the governor's proposed budget, there will be more than $785 million in reserve funds in the state's coffers at the end of the 1999-2000 fiscal year.
Ridge also proposed a 2.5 percent boost in base funding for the 14 state universities and other state-related schools. The 14 schools within the State System of Higher Education were seeking a $23.5 million budget boost this year. Community colleges are slated to get a 3 percent increase under Ridge's fiscal plan.
Spanier will appear before the state Senate on Feb. 22 and the House of Representatives on Feb. 23 to urge legislators to provide more support to Penn State.
"I continue to believe that additional support for Penn State is warranted and will have a significant impact on the future of Pennsylvania."
Currently, Pennsylvania ranks 47th nationally in per capita support for higher education.
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