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Corbett proposes steady funding for state-run and related universities

| Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 2:00 p.m.

HARRISBURG — After two straight years of proposing drastic cuts to higher education, Gov. Tom Corbett on Friday said the state budget he will propose next week includes no change from this year in funding to state universities and state-related schools.

Instead of starting in the hole, Pennsylvania universities will at least get the same $1.58 billion in the next fiscal year as this year. In exchange, university leaders promised to keep tuition increases as low as possible, Corbett said.

He releases his budget on Tuesday, kicking off consideration by the General Assembly.

Lawmakers must approve the package as part of a 2013-14 spending plan that begins with a deficit of $500 million to $1 billion, according to Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre County, who attended Corbett's announcement.

The tuition limit is a verbal agreement. Neither Corbett nor lawmakers in attendance would provide a specific number they would consider a maximum allowable tuition increase. The Legislature wouldn't look favorably next year on universities that raise tuition 6 to 7 percent, said Corman, whose district includes Penn State's main campus.

“I expect it'll be less than 5 percent,” Corman added.

In addition to Penn State and other state-related universities of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln, there are 14 state-owned universities such as Slippery Rock, California, Shippensburg, Edinboro and Indiana.

“Our commitment allows schools to plan their budgets for the coming year and make the best use of their resources,” Corbett said. “Their commitment should allow students and their families to plan their own budgets.”

In a similar agreement with lawmakers last year, Temple froze tuition, Penn State's overall tuition for its main campus went up 2.4 percent, and Pitt, Lincoln and state system universities raised tuition by 3 percent. Corbett and lawmakers last year eliminated the governor's proposed 20- to 30-percent cuts as state revenue improved throughout the start of the fiscal year.

“It's true that in the final 2012-13 enacted budget most of higher education was level-funded from the previous year,” said House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton. “But this was achieved at the end of June only after legislators and other interested people fought and scrapped to get funding restored, overcoming the governor's desire last February to keep cutting higher education.”

The funding-tuition agreement stems from recommendations by the Governor's Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education headed by former Republican Senator Rob Wonderling of Montgomery County. Recommendations included long-term financial and accountability proposals and linking increases to performance and tuition containment.

“The report clearly does call for a commitment to cost containment,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. The report also “recognizes we do need a higher level of funding and (that we) not drop below last year's level.”

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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