By Logan Hullinger
INDIANA — Ongoing budget gridlock in Harrisburg may harm the state’s public universities, according to a spokesman for the statewide system and according to Indiana University of Pennsylvania students who rallied at the capitol on Feb. 8 to boost funding for higher education.
In his Feb. 9 annual budget speech to state lawmakers, Gov. Tom Wolf described the stalemate as a “ticking time bomb” that will produce “a fiscal catastrophe the likes of which we have never seen,” he said.
Even if the Republican-controlled legislature were to approve the Democratic governor’s budget proposal for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the benefit to higher-education funding would be minimal, according to a Feb. 16 analysis by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a nonpartisan, Harrisburg-based think tank. The Wolf budget would restore only about one-fourth of the higher-ed funding cut by Wolf’s predecessor in 2011-2012.
“This is too little to substantially lift Pennsylvania from its 49th rank for state investment in higher education and too little to stem the continuing rise of tuition and student debt,” according to the center’s analysis.
At the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the administrative umbrella for the 14-campus public-university system that includes IUP, a spokesman echoed some of the governor’s rhetoric.
“Lack of funding could wreak havoc at PASSHE campuses,” said PaSSHE spokesman Kenn D. Marshall in a Feb. 24 phone interview from Harrisburg. “If the lack of funding isn’t solved, you can expect to see budget cuts, jobs lost, the delaying of maintenance projects and cuts to several areas of university spending.”
At IUP, officials shied from queries about the looming crisis. Administrators who declined comment within the past week included President Michael A. Driscoll, Vice President for Administration and Finance Cornelius Wooten, Associate Vice President for Finance Susanna C. Sink and spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling.
Vincent J. Lopez, president of IUP’s Student Government Association, also declined comment.
IUP students who rode to the state capitol on Feb. 8 to rally for more funding for higher education spoke up about the state budget impasse.
“I think that Harrisburg needs to allocate more funding to state schools because it’s needed to enhance learning on campus,” said Jedidiah N Johnson, a junior journalism major. “I feel that we would have a College of Natural Science and Mathematics building on campus already if IUP had proper funding.”
Andrea K Mowers, a senior journalism and public relations major, said the state budget stalemate reflected partisan divisions nationally.
“Our nation is divided,” Mowers said. “This was just another example of how we suffer when politicians push for their own agenda instead of pushing an agenda that others can benefit from, too.”
Logan Hullinger, a sophomore journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania from Clarion, is a staff reporter for The HawkEye. He can be contacted at L.R.Hullinger@iup.edu.