Gov. Wolf signs funding for Penn State, 4 other universities

By MARK SCOLFORO and MARC LEVY Markets Associated Press

Five universities are in line to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding that's been held up for months by the Legislature's dispute over fully funding the budget.

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Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation Friday to authorize some $650 million in support that schools said was needed to avert steep increases in in-state tuition rates.

The funding goes to the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary school and the four state-related institutions — Lincoln, Penn State, Pitt and Temple. It also releases money for Penn State's agricultural research and extension programs.

"Our flagship higher education institutions should never again be held hostage in the General Assembly's budget process," Wolf said in a statement. "These are high-impact and invaluable assets for our commonwealth's students and economy. Our state investment helps keep these world-class universities affordable for state students."

Also Friday, state Treasurer Joe Torsella authorized a $1.8 billion credit line that must be paid back by April 2. The loan will help the government pay its bills on time, and it comes days after lawmakers passed major legislation designed to patch up a projected $2.2 billion deficit.

The interest rate is variable but is currently just under 1 percent, according to the treasurer's office.

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Temple spokesman Ray Betzner said the school's $150 million share translates to a $12,000-a-year discount for students from Pennsylvania.

"For some of these kids, it's the difference between being able to go to college and not being able to go to college," Betzner said. "It's a tremendous relief for us."

Penn State said its $230 million state subsidy is almost entirely devoted to offset tuition. Its agriculture programs are getting $52 million, Penn State Hershey Medical Center $13 million and Penn College in Williamsport $22 million.

University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher called the money "a critical mechanism for ensuring that we retain the best and brightest students in the commonwealth." The school said the funding would avert a midyear tuition increase.

After a flurry of votes this week in the House and Senate, legislation on Wolf's desk would authorize $1.5 billion in borrowing, tax increases of as much as $140 million and an aggressive expansion of casino-style gambling in Pennsylvania. The state already gets more money from gambling taxes — $1.4 billion last year — than any other state.

Lawmakers project that the gambling legislation will mean an additional $200 million or more in cash for the state from licensing fees and higher gambling losses. It also promises more money for school property tax rebates, the Pennsylvania Lottery and local government treasuries and projects.

Wolf has not yet said what he plans to do about those pieces of the budget puzzle.