Pa. gov’s deep higher-ed cuts draw protests

"It's a matter of fairness that these drillers pay," said Rep. Greg Vitali.

Pennsylvania’s new Republican governor is under fire for proposing the nation’s biggest cuts in higher education–more than 50 percent for some universities–while refusing to tax the gas drilling that is fast becoming one of the state’s largest industries.

Some critics of Gov. Tom Corbett are frustrated that he won’t tap such a rich source of tax revenue when the state is looking at a projected deficit next year of $4 billion.

“This is the most irrational public policy I’ve ever seen in my life,” Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach said Thursday. “He’s supposed to be fighting for Pennsylvania. He’s saying that Pennsylvania can’t have this money.”

Corbett has long opposed any tax on the gas extracted from the rich deposit known as the Marcellus Shale, and he repeated that stand Tuesday in the same speech in which he outlined the cuts in education. He said a tax would hinder the growth of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania and prevent the state from becoming the national hub of the industry.

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“Let’s make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural gas boom,” he urged lawmakers. “I’m determined that Pennsylvania not lose this moment. We have the chance to get it right the first time, the chance to grow our way out of the hard days.”

Corbett contends the industry has already plowed billions of dollars into the state, spawned economic booms in some of Pennsylvania’s most depressed areas and generated new revenue from the income, sales and other existing taxes. Pennsylvania is the largest gas-producing state without a gas extraction tax.

In the $27.3 billion budget he presented to lawmakers, Corbett proposed slashing spending on higher education by $644 million, including a more than 50 percent reduction for the 18 state-supported universities and colleges, which include Penn State, Pittsburgh and Temple. He also proposed a $1 billion cut for Pennsylvania’s public schools.

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