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Less than 15 minutes before the July 1 deadline, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) signed a $27.15 billion budget.

Although Corbett fulfilled his promise not to raise any taxes, he reduced funding for social services, most notably appropriations for public schools and higher education.

Close to home, Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine and the Wistar Institute, situated in University City, received funding from the state.

But the budget reduced spending for major education programs by $863 million and cut higher education funding by $160 million.

“The budget makes cuts that are unnecessary and that strike at the heart of the middle class,” Sharon Ward, director of the nonpartisan Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, wrote in an email. “It cuts public schools and colleges, both of which are critical to the families that Pennsylvania needs to retain.”

Vet School Funding

Penn Vet was given $27.9 million in this year’s budget. State funding for the school had been as high as almost $40 million in the 2008 fiscal year, and has declined in the years since.

“The PA appropriation is the single largest component of our operating revenue,” Vet School Dean Joan Hendricks wrote in an email. “In particular, the largest single expense in our operating budget is the cost of salaries for our best-in-class faculty, clinicians and veterinary technicians. We also subsidize the cost of research and service provided to animal industries such as agriculture and horseracing.”

Partly for this reason, funding for Penn Vet was transferred from the Department of Education to the Department of Agriculture this year.

The budget also reinstated funding for the Center for Infectious Disease, operated by Penn Vet. The Center, which received more than $3.2 million in the 2008 fiscal year, lost all of its appropriations and was forced to shut down in recent years. This year, it will receive just $248,000.

“Although [the Center] was eliminated at one point and is now only funded at less than 10% of the original appropriation, Penn Vet is committed to improving and protecting the health of humans and animals,” Hendricks wrote. “We provide this protection through the several ongoing research, teaching and service programs. The Moran Critical Care Center, for example, cares for horses with suspected infectious diseases and its operating expenses are partly supported by this funding.”

Wistar Institute Grant

The Wistar Institute, the biomedical center located at 3601 Spruce St., was awarded a sum of $18 million from the state budget, although these funds came from a separate funding mechanism. The Institute was given a grant from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, which is administered by the governor’s budget office to provide capital funding for improvement projects, to demolish part of its 36-year-old cancer research building and construct a modern seven-story research tower in its place.

The Institute received word of the grant last year from then-Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.).

“We are grateful that Governor Corbett, former Governor Rendell and the state legislature recognized that this major renovation and expansion of our aging facilities is essential to ensure Wistar’s future as a leading biomedical research institute,” Wistar Institute spokeswoman Staci Goldberg wrote in an email. “The construction of a new research tower with state-of-the-art laboratory space will allow Wistar researchers to make even greater progress in finding new treatments for cancer and developing vaccines for AIDS and other infectious diseases.”

Construction for the research tower is slated to begin in September.

Cuts in Higher Education

The budget Corbett had proposed earlier this year sought a 51.4-percent reduction in funding for higher education. The budget passed last week lowered that figure significantly — higher education funding declined by 18 percent.

According to the PBPC, after taking into account the loss of stimulus funds as well, community colleges saw their funding decrease by 10 percent, Pennsylvania State University by 18 percent and the University of Pittsburgh and Temple and Lincoln universities by 19 percent.

“[Pennsylvania’s] colleges are the key to its long-term economic success,” Ward wrote. “Making such large cuts in higher ed was unnecessary and short-sighted. Former Governor Ed Rendell envisioned a Pennsylvania that could compete with the Research Triangle or Silicon Valley. Governor Corbett seems content to have Pennsylvania compete with Mississippi.”

Last Thursday, in anticipation of the budget cuts, the Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education — which manages the 14 state-owned universities, oversees about 120,000 students and saw its funding decline by about 18 percent — approved a 7.5-percent tuition increase to raise the annual cost to $6,240.

Temple University announced on Friday that it will also increase its in-state tuition by 9.9 percent to $13,006 and out-of-state tuition by 5.4 percent to $22,832, while reducing its operating expenses by $36 million.

Reactions to the Budget

To its credit, the state budget did close a $4.2 billion deficit without raising taxes and was the first in nine years to be signed on time.

The budget was passed by a politically divisive vote of 109 to 92. No Democrat from either the State Senate or the House of Representatives voted for it. All but two Republicans, both from Philadelphia, voted against it.

Constituents, too, are divided over the budget.

On Friday, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania — the state’s largest union of healthcare workers — led community members in a protest against cuts to education, health care and other social services outside Corbett’s Philadelphia office.

On the other hand, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, an association that represents the business interests of the state, expressed its approval of the budget’s passage.

“Our members recognize that this budget required tough negotiations and some difficult choices,” Gene Barr, the Chamber’s vice president of government and public affairs, said in a statement. “But adopting a budget that controls state government spending and holds the line on taxes at a time when job creators and individuals most need fiscal restraint is in the long-term best interest of the Commonwealth’s working families and overall economy.”

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