“Despite state subsidies over the past decades, tuition has continued to increase,” the governor said. “If the intent was to keep tuition rates down, it failed. We need to find a new model.”
Students, faculty members and administrators are mobilizing to convince lawmakers, many of whom are on their side, that the cuts are unreasonable.
What effect the cuts would have on the campuses remains unclear, although tuition increases are likely and the closing of some of Penn State’s 24 satellite campuses is possible, officials said. Penn State has 87,000 students all together.
“Everything is on the table,” said Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers.
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Molly Stieber, 21, president of the University of Pittsburgh’s student government, said she expected Corbett would call for modest cuts for higher education because of the state’s financial problems, but nothing as radical as he proposed.
“I was completely blindsided. … Fifty percent was just unprecedented and scary,” said Stieber, 21, a junior from Lancaster who is majoring in political science.
Stieber and her Penn State counterpart, Christian Ragland, are urging students and parents to contact their legislators. Plans for protest rallies and a day of student lobbying at the Capitol are in the works, they said.
“Now we’re in aggressive mode,” said Ragland, 22, a senior from New Jersey majoring in political science.
Corbett, who received nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from donors connected to the gas drilling industry, ran on a pledge not to increase any state taxes or fees. Republicans control both houses of the Legislature, giving Corbett a strong advantage in the budget negotiations that will take place in the coming weeks.
Democratic former Gov. Ed Rendell and leaders of the Senate GOP majority sought to negotiate a compromise on a drilling tax last fall, but the effort failed. Some Democrats are renewing the push this year.
“It’s a matter of fairness that these drillers pay,” said Rep. Greg Vitali. He said annual revenue from his bill would amount to $200 million this coming year and rise to $430 million by 2015-16.
David Masur, director of the lobbying group PennEnvironment, said a tax would have “zero political fallout,” since it would be paid not by ordinary Pennsylvanians but by the drilling companies.
“Where are they going to go?”” he asked. “The gas isn’t going anywhere.”
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