One day after several Penn State representatives testified before a joint legislative committee in Harrisburg, the university may have some hope of seeing its 2015-16 budget appropriation.
After months of being held hostage by the ongoing budget standoff between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-dominated legislature, led by Centre County’s state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, the university’s funds have a chance at release after voting Wednesday.
The Senate took a vote on House Bill 1801, a supplemental budget that would, according to a Senate release, “increase state support for education by $200 million and restore much of the $6 billion in funding eliminated by the governor’s line-item vetoes.”
The total of the supplemental budget came in at $30.031 billion, and senators say it would be fueled by existing funding streams instead of new tax money.
In addition to providing $5.95 billion in basic education funding, it also provides full funding for Penn State and its three state-related university siblings, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln, plus addressing the issue that was on the floor Tuesday, the looming threat of layoffs and program closures in the areas of agricultural extension, research and 4-H.
“We are in an emergency situation,” Corman said. “Let’s stop looking at what this budget isn’t and focus on what it is.”
He pointed to the Penn State impact, as well as funds for rural hospitals.
“This plan gets our communities the money they desperately need without the tax increases the governor so desperately wants,” Corman said.
The House rubber-stamped the Senate’s changes, giving approval from both legislative chambers.
Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, urged Wolf “to do the right thing” and sign the budget.
“This supplemental budget spends within our ability to pay, closes out the 2015-16 books and drives out vital funding, all while investing millions more in basic education,” he said in a statement. “We cannot allow our schools to close or people to lose their jobs, which is a very real and unacceptable possibility if this supplemental budget is not enacted.”
The bill now goes to the governor. Corman’s office said that will happen Thursday.
That could be where the new budget dies, though.
“In its current form, I will veto this budget, and I urge Republicans in the legislature to stop the partisan games and come back to the table to negotiate a final budget the funds our schools and eliminates the nearly $2 billion deficit,” he said in a statement.
Wolf said the plan was the third time the GOP leaders had passed an unbalanced budget without his administration’s input.
“This is simply unproductive and a waste of taxpayer resources,” he said.
Penn State officials just want to see the budget passed so they can avoid May 1 layoff notices.
“We are grateful to legislators in the House for today’s action, and we remain hopeful that the governor will sign our bill so that Penn State and the other state-related universities can remain accessible and continue to provide a quality education to our students,” said spokeswoman Lisa Powers.