The state of Pennsylvania now has one of the longest standing budget stalemates in the history of the Commonwealth.

Seven months into the fiscal year, and we still stand in limbo.

This is no small matter for Penn State.  The compromise budget that nearly made its way to the governor’s desk included an anticipated appropriation of approximately $225 million in general support, more than $19 million for Pennsylvania College of Technology, more than $11 million in Department of Human Services Medical Assistance funding for The Hershey Medical Center, and more than $50 million in support of the College of Agricultural Science’s service to the Commonwealth.

Earlier this week, I spent much of the day in Harrisburg talking to both Republican and Democratic leadership, moving from Senate to House, and talking with the governor and his chief of staff. My objective was straightforward — to communicate to our elected officials that as the stalemate continues, the stress it places on Penn State grows and our flexibility diminishes.  What were some of the specifics in my message?  Here are few examples:

  • The dean of our College of Agricultural Sciences tells me that the Commonwealth won’t be ready to address the Avian Flu that has so seriously impacted other states without the support of the college and our extension agents.
  • We are fast approaching the time where we will have to delay significant construction projects, projects that both improve our educational mission and help promote job creation in Pennsylvania.
  • It is a tragedy to use a tuition dollar to pay interest on borrowing that we shouldn’t have to pay or to sell off investments that earn dollars that support worthwhile programs, just to cover the lack of a state appropriation.
  • We soon will have no choice but to take explicit measures to reduce our risk rather than walk up to the brink of what should be unthinkable.

The return message was equally clear – the elected officials of the Commonwealth value our University and understand the critical importance of state support for holding the line on tuition and supporting programs critical to the well-being of the Commonwealth. However, we are only part of a much larger budget, one that is stalled on strongly held principles and beliefs related to governance and how the state manages structural deficits, taxes, liquor privatization, benefits and a host of other issues.

Our state funding comes to us through a “non-preferred” appropriations bill, and the state is having difficulty even managing the basic budget because of contention over how to generate revenues and how much revenue must be generated. And, as a “non-preferred” appropriation, the state-related institutions need a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate to have our appropriation move forward to the governor.

And so we wait.

Here I have to pause — Penn State and the other state-related universities are technically “non-preferred” appropriations. Yet, Penn State is a critical part of the state of Pennsylvania, and everyone I spoke with in the Capitol agrees. Our name says it all. Our scope says it even better. No university educates more Pennsylvania students. No university spans the entire breadth of the Commonwealth.  We are everywhere — at 24 locations and with Penn State employees in every county. Our economic impact exceeds that of any other entity in the state. Our academic excellence rank is higher than any other public university in the Commonwealth. And, given the fact that the per-student investment by the Commonwealth at Penn State is lower than all other universities in the state, I would argue that we are the best at investing a state dollar in excellence and in student success. In so many ways, Penn State epitomizes the value of Pennsylvania’s investment in higher education — and I say this with no disrespect for the many other fine universities in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania has been investing in Penn State for more than 160 years. State support is incredibly important to us and to our students, but it is not an entitlement. I know that. But I am quite certain that, with our record of educating Pennsylvania students and with our record of student success and economic impact, we have earned a place where state support should be viewed as essential to the success of Pennsylvania.

We all hope that the investment would be larger but, one thing is for sure, in terms of our value to the families of Pennsylvania and our economic vitality, the concept of “non-preferred” doesn’t match our value to the Commonwealth.

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