Pa. budget impasse hits Penn State ag college, Extension

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Pennsylvania Capitol
Pennsylvania Capitol (Flickr/Kumar Appaiah photo)

HERSHEY, Pa. — Harrisburg’s partisan budget stalemate could have an irreversible impact on Penn State University’s agricultural college, and its research and Extension operations.

If state appropriations for the programs, which provide services in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, are not approved before May, university President Eric Barron said 1,100 positions could be lost statewide.

At a meeting of Penn State’s board of trustees Feb. 26, Barron outlined the projected impact of the budget deficit.

Background

For the past eight months, state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf have not been able to come to agreement on the state budget, holding up funding for the Commonwealth’s four state-related universities, a combined amount of more than $600 million.

Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, its research and Extension programs are funded through the Land Scrip Fund, located in the state Department of Agriculture’s budget. The Land Scrip Fund was part of the governor’s line-item veto and is currently zeroed out.

“If there is not quick action to restore funding for these vital programs, the 150-year-long partnership between Penn State and Pennsylvania will be forever changed,” Barron said.

At the meeting Penn State Trustee Keith Eckel also voiced concern about the future of ag research and extension at Penn State. “The truth is that these programs serve every consumer in the state. It is critically important that [the loss of these programs] does not happen.”

Extension stabbed

According to an analysis by the College of Agricultural Sciences, more than 1,100 jobs across Pennsylvania’s counties are on the line, from faculty to part-time Extension positions. Also on the line are an additional $90 million in federal and county appropriations, and competitive grant funding that flows into Pennsylvania as a result of the Commonwealth’s investment.

“The dedicated faculty, staff, researchers and educators whose positions are at risk play a vital role in helping our state’s single largest industry to compete on a national scale, Barron said.

Possible 4-H elimination

Barron said continued funding delays for the 2015-16 budget year also will result in the elimination of 4-H and Master Gardener programs statewide, impacting more than 92,000 members and more than 9,500 volunteers in communities across Pennsylvania.

University support

The university’s administration has done all it can to support the mission of the College of Agricultural Sciences, transferring millions of dollars annually into the College of Agricultural Sciences to help make up for declining or flat state funding. This year alone, Penn State has spent more than $30 million of university funds to keep important programs going in the absence of a state budget.

Penn State’s Agricultural Research and Extension programs enjoyed a 9.3 percent proposed increase in the 2015-16 budget passed by both the House and Senate, demonstrating strong support for these programs.

Barron will testify before the state House and Senate appropriations committees on March 2 to underscore the negative effects of a continued delay in appropriations, both for agricultural research and Extension, and for the wider university.

Some $600 million in aid is being held up to Penn State, Temple, Pitt, Lincoln and the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school,

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