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Governor Tom Wolf plans to quietly give Pennsylvania’s four state-linked universities, including Penn State and Pitt, a one-time $40 million boost using stimulus funds he has sole authority to direct .
The move follows abortion access opponents in the State House who unsuccessfully tried to block school funding for Pitt’s research using fetal tissue.
Pitt, Penn State, Lincoln University, and Temple University receive taxpayer money each year to subsidize in-state tuition. The legislature did not increase the official appropriation for universities in this year’s budget.
Instead, Wolf plans to direct a one-time 5% increase to schools using the stimulus money the legislature voted to give him this summer. The bill affecting the money only says it is for ‘pandemic response’.
The governor has not highlighted the appropriation in a press release touting his “legacy” of funding education, nor has he disclosed it publicly elsewhere. This was noted in a budget summary released by state House Democrats.
In an email, Wolf spokeswoman Elizabeth Rementer confirmed the plan, which matches what the Democratic governor offered in his February budget speech.
“I support supporting state universities,” Wolf told reporters in June. “I would like to find a way to do it.”
In emails, spokespersons for leading legislative Republicans — who have faced backlash from rank-and-file Republicans as well as anti-abortion activists for defunding Pitt — said they were either at current, or be surprised by Wolf’s decision to give the schools additional funding.
Erica Clayton Wright, spokeswoman for the state Senate Republicans, said in an email that “there was a verbal agreement that the funds would go to them.”
State House Republican spokesman Jason Gottesman said in an email “it wouldn’t be surprising” if Wolf chose to use the money to increase state-related funding “given that it has been a long-standing priority of his office.”
Both stressed that the funding was seen as a temporary, one-time increase.
State Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill, led the effort to block Pitt’s funding, arguing that any institution that conducts fetal tissue research, which he called “barbaric,” didn’t deserve of financing.
This research uses tissue obtained from aborted fetuses, whether elective abortion or miscarriage.
According to Pitt, scientists at the university have “used fetal tissue to better understand the efficacy and safety of certain treatments for HIV, AIDS and cancer.” The research is funded by federal grants.
Knowles was frustrated that the school received its usual appropriation even though its efforts to ban fetal tissue research failed. He compared Wolf’s extra cash to “poking someone in the eye”.
“Pitt is probably laughing at us right now because they got their money,” Knowles said. “All the high-flying lobbyists were walking around this building, beating the drums for them to get their money, and they got their money. So I guess they’re probably laughing at me, thinking ‘Well, we got them.’ ”
In previous years, funding for state-tied universities was a pro forma vote that generated little controversy in the legislature. But starting in 2019, some Republican lawmakers began using abortion advocates’ talking points to try to block Pitt’s appropriation.
Anti-abortion activists have claimed that Pitt violated state and federal laws as well as medical ethics in these studies, accusations that a report commissioned by the university proved to be false.
Shortly before the June 30 budget deadline, House Republicans successfully added an amendment to the college funding bill that would ban Pitt from conducting fetal tissue research.
Lawmakers were motivated not just by concerns about the search, but by former Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg’s stint as chairman of the state redistricting commission, which produced a map of the House of State that will likely reduce the majority of Republicans, and by general frustration with higher education. .
As the deadline went back and forth, the lower house took a different approach, proposing a clean version of a bill to fund universities and adding the research ban to legislation on the top. unbound debit.
Wolf signed the clean finance bill into law, and the other legislation is stalled in the state Senate.
Wright, the GOP spokesman in the state Senate, said the proposed research ban should be dealt with outside of the budget process so as not to hold student tuition rebates hostage. She did not respond to specific questions about whether the upper house would move the amended bill forward.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Pitt said the university is “grateful” for Wolf and the support of the legislature and looks forward to “continuing to engage with lawmakers about the importance of teaching.” superior for the future of Pennsylvania”.
The Governor’s Discretionary Funds
The $40 million for state-related universities comes from a pot of federal dollars directly under Wolf’s control.
Since 2021, the Republican-controlled General Assembly has given Wolf $412 million in “pandemic response” funds — $372 million last year and $40 million this year.
According to Rementer, the Wolf administration still has $229 million of that money.
Spotlight PA was able to identify how the Wolf administration used just under $128 million. Expenditure items include approximately $50 million in retention bonuses for state employees; $20 million in subsidies for hair salons and hair salons; $11.4 million to food banks to upgrade refrigerators and freezers; and $6.5 million in student loan relief and apprenticeships for nurses.
The administration is still dividing the remaining money among “specific programs in consultation with the General Assembly,” Rementer said.
For General Assembly watchers, the low-key effort to funnel additional funds to state-linked universities highlights the stealthy ways elected officials make decisions without the public — or even state lawmakers. State – do not know.
“Even a broken process can fund good things here and there, like education,” said Michael Pollack, executive director of good governance group March on Harrisburg. “But we have to look carefully at this broken process.”
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