Death of an Adjunct

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Appearing earlier this month on a radio program in Pittsburgh with labor historian Charles McCollester, I heard for the first time the story of Margaret Mary Vojtko, a 25-year adjunct faculty member at Duquesne University who died recently in poverty at the age of 83.

Two and a half years ago, the Keystone Research Center released the most comprehensive state report in the United States on the rising use of adjunct faculty at colleges and universities. The numbers were sobering. Even if they cobbled together a full-time (10 courses per year) load at multiple institutions, adjunct community college faculty in Pennsylvania earned only about $25,000 annually. Contingent faculty members and instructors taught 42% of the courses at all public colleges and universities in Pennsylvania (versus 49% nationally). Most part-time/adjunct faculty members in Pennsylvania public higher education received no health or pension benefits.

Given cuts in state funding for higher education since we wrote our report, the situation is surely worse today in Pennsylvania.

How do we avoid a future in which a majority of higher education faculty earn less than a “quality” wage – a wage sufficient to give teachers time to prepare lessons, establish office hours, and provide feedback that increases student learning?

It would help if we honored the rights of part-time/contingent faculty to join a union – starting, for example, at Margaret Mary’s Duquesne. One game-changing option would give all part-time and contingent faculty at publicly funded Pennsylvania higher education institutions the freedom to form a single statewide local union. This would enable part-time and contingent faculty to negotiate statewide wage and benefit standards and working conditions consistent with teaching excellence. (This type of geographically based union that lifts up low wages and benefits in service industries that can’t relocate – because they have to be near their “customers” – is exactly what is needed to rebuild the middle class generally in Pennsylvania and the United States. See my earlier posts on fast food workers and on the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”)

State lawmakers also need to develop – and fund – a long-term plan for paying all higher education teachers a “quality wage.” In a world both moral and rational, this could be part of a broader plan that also makes post-secondary education affordable again for students, and marries online and in-person education to lower costs while maintaining quality.

This approach starts with values – the outcomes we want for students, faculty, and taxpayers – and then uses technology, collective problem-solving, and social negotiation to create a world that honors those values. Imagine the possibilities.

The story of Margaret Mary is a sad reminder that all public policy discussion should start from values – the world we want to create and, unfortunately, the world we want to avoid.

Pa. Budget: Failing to Invest in a Stronger State Economy

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Despite ending the 2011-12 fiscal year with a $649 million fund balance, Pennsylvania fails to make the investments essential to building a strong economy or to reverse a recent trend where job growth in the commonwealth has lagged behind other states.

So concludes the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center analysis of the enacted 2012-13 state budget, which was released Friday.

In the final budget, the General Assembly restores some of the cuts proposed by Governor Tom Corbett, while leaving intact a 10% cut to human services and deep cuts to public schools and higher education made in 2011. The budget continues to shift costs to local governments and taxpayers, while adding new tax breaks for businesses.

The spending plan, at $27.656 billion, is $517 million more than the Governor’s February proposal but remains below budgeted 2008-09 levels, despite four years of recession-driven increases in demand for services. The largest cut in this budget comes from the elimination of the General Assistance Program, which provides a temporary monthly benefit to 68,887 Pennsylvanians who are sick, disabled or escaping an abuser. It ends next month

Cuts to education enacted last year, meanwhile, have diminished the quality of instruction in our poorest school districts and resulted in the loss of 14,000 jobs in 2011.

The budget squeezes money out of human services, education and General Assistance at the same time it expands and creates new tax credits and continues the ongoing phase-out of the capital stock and franchise tax. This is part of a decade-long pattern that will see the commonwealth spending $2.4 billion on corporate tax breaks in the new budget. That amount has tripled over the last 10 years and does not count the hundreds of millions of dollars lost annually to corporate tax loopholes. Most of these tax breaks primarily benefit the largest corporations and come with no commitment to create jobs.

As the economy continues to recover, Pennsylvania will need to make public investments to build a strong economy and make Pennsylvania a place where families will want to live. This budget takes a small step in that direction, but falls well short of where we need to be.

Check out the center’s budget analysis for more.

PA Starts New Fiscal Year with $400 Million in the Bank

By Michael Wood, Third and State

After a less than stellar May, General Fund tax collections bounced back strongly in June – exceeding estimate by $170 million, or 6.5%. This narrowed the 2011-12 revenue shortfall to $163 million, or less than 1% of total estimated collections for the year.

As a result, the state ended the year in a much better fiscal situation than projected back in February, when Governor Tom Corbett released his budget plan. Counting the dollars the state had in the bank, Pennsylvania actually started the fiscal year with a $400 million fund balance.

The recently enacted budget acknowledged this but only to a point. The Legislature increased General Fund spending in 2012-13 by $655 million from the Governor’s  proposal – restoring funding in a number of important areas: higher education, accountability block grants, and half of the 20% cut proposed for county services included in the now-rejected Human Services Development Block Grant. Lawmakers also found funding for another round of business tax breaks.

However, June collections indicate more could have been done – for General Assistance recipients, environmental programs, and child care. Lawmakers also passed on setting aside any of the additional revenue in the Rainy Day Fund.

Click here for the Tale of the Tape.

The revenue surplus in June was led by corporate tax collections – coming in $180 million higher than the monthly target, or 38%. After falling short of estimates for seven of the first eight months of the fiscal year, corporate taxes ended June with a small surplus of $39 million, or 0.8%.

Personal income tax collections were also surpassed estimate in June by $26 million, or 2.7%. For the fiscal year, PIT collections were $199 million, or 1.8%, below expectations – not a surprise given the slower-than-expected decrease in the unemployment rate and general sluggishness in the economy.

Sales tax receipts were $46 million, or 5.5%, lower than expected in June. This pushed yearly sales tax collections slightly below estimate ($16 million, or 0.2%).

All major categories of taxes grew in 2011-12. In total, they exceeded 2010-11 levels by $688 million, or 2.6%.

Piecing Together the PA Budget Framework

(Important news… – promoted by John Morgan)

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Some details emerged Thursday about the state budget framework unveiled midweek by Governor Tom Corbett and legislative leaders, but questions still remain. More details may be available later today when budget spreadsheets are released.

Funding for county human services is one area that appears to be in flux, as some House Republicans continue to voice concerns about a plan to block grant and cut that funding. 

A number of GOP House lawmakers want to add more dollars for the mental health and mental disability programs in that mix, said [Rep. Mario] Scavello.

A Senate-approved bill restores half of the $168 million spending cut for the human services programs initially proposed by Mr. Corbett. House members would like to restore even more money but have to balance that with cuts elsewhere, he added.

Although the statewide association representing county commissioners recently agreed to a two-year phase-in for the block grant, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-18, Bensalem, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, said he’s trying to stop the block grant altogether and substitute a pilot program for several counties instead …

The seven programs considered for a block grant include community mental health and mental disability services, the human services development fund, homeless assistance, child welfare grants, the Behavorial Health Services Initiative and Act 152 drug and alcohol treatment programs.

While there is some hope for restoring more funds to county human services, one area that appeared not to make the cut is the state’s General Assistance Program. The governor proposed – and legislative leaders appear to have agreed to – eliminating this modest benefit for temporarily disabled adults, which will have a devastating on nearly 70,000 Pennsylvanians striving to avoid homelessness and build a better life for themselves.

One item unlikely to survive, despite protests from church groups and advocates for the poor, is the so-called general assistance program that provides cash benefits to nearly 70,000 temporarily disabled adults. Corbett proposed eliminating the funding, and legislative leaders did not seek to restore it.

Brenda Freeman of West Philadelphia, who has peripheral edema, which swells tissues in her arms and legs, said that program had been “my only income.” Freeman, 38, whose condition makes it very difficult to stand or sit for long periods and who telephoned The Inquirer to protest the cut, said: “What am I going to have to do – eat out of a trash can?”

“There still is a chance to do something,” she said. “I’m hoping that they do the right thing.”

Pennsylvania’s public schools and universities are likely to see no change in their funding, after sustaining deep cuts in the budget enacted last year.

On Thursday afternoon, the House Appropriations Committee approved funding bills for the four state-related universities as well as the Veterinary School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Though he stopped short of confirming that the schools – Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities and the University of Pittsburgh – would be flat-funded at current levels, “we are working toward that idea,” said Drew Crompton, the chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.

The four schools were targeted for 30 percent cuts in Corbett’s $27.14 billion budget proposal unveiled in February. An amended version of the budget approved by the Senate this spring would fund at current levels: Penn State at $227 million; Temple at $139 million; Lincoln at $11 million and the University of Pittsburgh at $136 million.

Crompton said budget negotiators are moving in a similar direction with the state system schools … The schools would be maintained at their current level of $412 million.

Finally, multiple newspapers are reporting that Accountability Block Grants, which support full-day kindergarten and other early childhood programs, will be restored to $100 million after the governor proposed eliminating them. More funding will likely be approved for distressed schools and to expand the state Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, which allows businesses to donate to private school scholarships and recover most, if not all, of their contribution through tax benefits.

Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, said negotiators told him the tentative agreement includes $25 million to expand the current Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which is currently funded at $75 million. An additional $50 million would be available to students who attend a school among the state’s lowest-achieving 15 percent.

The Myths Behind Governor Corbett’s PA Budget Myths

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Governor Tom Corbett’s May 21 newsletter offered up responses to five “myths” the administration claims are circulating about his proposed budget for next year. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center examined these myths and the myths behind the myths to give you a clear picture about what is fact and what is fiction in Harrisburg.

Governor’s Myth #1: Pennsylvania spends more money building prisons than building schools. 

We’re not sure where this one came from, but we will give it a whirl.

Fact: The Corbett administration’s budget includes a moratorium on new school construction projections, and NO FUNDING for school district projects in the pipeline.

Fact: If the Governor’s proposed plan for higher education is adopted, Pennsylvania will spend twice as much on prisons as it does on colleges. In 2009-10, the state’s corrections budget was $1.8 billion and college funding was $1.5 billion. If the Governor had his way, Pennsylvania would spend $1.9 billion on corrections and $980 million on colleges in 2012-13.  

Fact: It costs the state much more to house prisoners than it does to educate a child. In 2011-12, Pennsylvania will house 49,000 inmates at a cost of $35,188 per inmate and spend $9.3 billion to educate 1.8 million students at a cost in state dollars of $5,305 per child.

Fact: It is better to build schools than to build prisons. 

Governor’s Myth #2: The reductions in higher education funding will cause universities to raise tuition.  

Well, cutting college funding is certainly not going to help keep tuition down.

Fact: Public subsidies keep college tuition more affordable. In 2009-10, the average cost (nationally) of a public four-year college education was $15,014, while the average cost of a four-year private college was more than double at $32,790.  

Fact: From 1999 to 2011, Pennsylvania’s state funding for higher education fell by 12%.

Fact: The Governor and General Assembly cut public colleges by 20% last year, and the Governor proposed to cut 30% more this year.  

Fact: Pennsylvania ranked 46th in public college funding as a share of personal income in 2011-12.  

Fact: Our economy can’t grow if our children don’t have a college education.

Governor’s Myth #3: The proposed budget reduces funding for K-12 education and will force school districts to raise property taxes.

That’s no myth, that’s a fact.

Fact: The budget proposed by Governor Corbett and enacted by the General Assembly in June 2011 gave school districts $860 million less than they received the previous year. That included a reduction of 7%, or $421 million, in the basic education subsidy.  

Fact: The Governor’s cuts killed jobs. School districts cut programs, raised taxes and eliminated positions. In 2011, the state lost 14,000 jobs in public schools and universities.

Governor’s Myth #4: The elimination of cash assistance will mainly hurt children and victims of domestic violence.

Fact: In February, the Governor proposed eliminating the General Assistance program. The Governor is right: most of those affected are people with a permanent disability waiting for approval for Social Security disability benefits, or those who have an addiction and are eligible to receive the $200 monthly grant for seven months, in their lifetime.  

Fact: Women and children lost their health care, not cash assistance, when the Department of Public Welfare did a quick and dirty eligibility review and threw 88,000 kids out of state health insurance programs. Moms, seniors and people with disabilities (the only ones who can get health care coverage through Medical Assistance) lost their coverage too.

Fact: The budget cuts vulnerable adults as well as children. Do you feel better now?

Governor’s Myth #5: The proposed budget reduces funding for the arts.

Fact: The Governor has level-funded grants for the arts for two years. What has gone by the wayside is arts and music education that have been slashed by school districts as a result of the cuts to education (see Myth #2).

Let the Games Begin: PA Senate Announces Details of Budget Proposal

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Action on the state budget began in earnest Monday with state Senator Jake Corman, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, releasing important details on the Senate budget plan that will be advanced this week.

The proposal would increase Governor Tom Corbett’s budget proposal by $500 million, with total spending rising from $27.15 billion to $27.65 billion for 2012-13. The Senate plan rejects $191 million in fund transfers and new revenue and proposes new spending cuts of $165 million. Those spending reductions were not yet detailed.

According to a Capitolwire.com report (subscription required), the Senate budget plan:

  • Restores $245 million to higher education;
  • Does not include block grants for county human services or basic education;
  • Reduces the county human services funding cut from 20% to 10%;
  • Restores $50 million to Accountability Block Grants (which fund quality pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten); 
  • Restores $14 million in cuts to early childhood education;
  • Reduces the transfer from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund (Key ’93 Fund) from $38 million to $19 million; 
  • Cuts PHEAA by $8 million rather than the $19 million proposed by the Governor; and
  • Maintains $59 million for the CURE health research program in the Tobacco Settlement Fund.

Senator Corman, who announced the details, said the Senate wanted to take a step back on the proposed education block grant because “a lot of people are opposed to it” and will wait to get more feedback from school districts. On the human services block grant, Corman said, “we did not get into whether it is block granted or not.” 

It’s not clear that a 10% cut in county human services will seem like much of a victory to the folks fighting that battle. And since House leaders had been talking $100 million for Accountability Block Grants, there may be some trading to come. It’s not clear whether we can get a spend number higher than $27.615 billion so there is a lot more work to be done.

Will welfare programs get cut again?

The Senate plan includes $40 million in revenue from “recalculating Social Security and welfare costs.” The Social Security side is what school advocates have identified as double counting on charter school Social Security payment. The $165 million in unspecified spending cuts, plus the welfare savings, could be a cause for concern.

The preliminary revenue estimate released by the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) last week provided crucial cover to state lawmakers who have been hammered for months in Harrisburg and in the press about the consequences of the Governor’s proposed cuts. The IFO, which was established precisely for the purpose of providing a revenue estimate “independent” from the Governor, projects that Pennsylvania will end the current fiscal year with about a $400 million balance, and raise $400 million more than originally projected in the new fiscal year.

To make the Senate plan more palatable to lawmakers, especially those in the House loathe to spend a dime more even if bridges are falling down around them, Senator Corman argued that the spending plan would meet TABOR targets. That, of course, should send shivers down all of our spines.  

TABOR – the Taxpayer Bill of Rights – is the failed experiment in Colorado, which limited state spending to a formula of inflation plus population growth. If tax collections run higher than that, officials are supposed to send the money back to taxpayers as a rebate. In 2005, voters in Colorado passed a referendum suspending this crazy system for five years. 

Why would voters turn down a tax rebate check? I guess they tired of the gimmick. The last time I looked, local governments had passed 1,400 tax increases to make up for state funding cuts.

Pennsylvanians Opening Their Eyes to Corbett’s Misadventures

“You just have to close your eyes.”



That statement has made Gov. Tom Corbett the next Walker.  He put a bulls eye on his political back as large as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker did last year with his extreme position on a forced ultrasound procedure.  Now voters around Pennsylvania are opening their eyes and not liking what they’re seeing in Tom Corbett.  Following two budgets which slashed funding for education from pre-school through higher education, they’ve had enough and the poll numbers tell the tale.

The latest Quinnipiac University findings show his overall approval rate sinking fast to 41%.  Disapproval is also at 41%, a perilous position for someone in office only fifteen months.  When 41% of your citizens already don’t like you re-election won’t be an issue because there won’t be one.  One Term Tom is on his way to becoming exactly that.  His quote on this women’s reproductive health issue will surely sink him.  I can see the ads now:  “close your eyes and vote against Tom.”  Or, “Open your eyes and vote Democratic.”

The field of Democrats eyeing the Governor’s Mansion may begin getting long.  There’s blood in the water and the sharks should start circling soon.  I see Rob McCord and Joe Sestak already vying for position and Corbett, at this rate, will be easy prey.

His stubborn refusal to tax natural gas extraction is already causing unhappiness in the “T,” our infamous Pennsyltucky.  While voters there have never shown much intelligence they’re wising up to the fact their roads are being destroyed, water tables poisoned and wells leaking and exploding with alarming pollution runoffs into streams they use for fishing.  This has always been the Republican stronghold in the Commonwealth and if Corbett, aka Gov. Gasbag because he’s in the bag for the gas companies, loses support there he’s toast.  The GOP may even have to start looking for a different candidate.

The national exposure he suffered over the past week was enormous.  The infamous words keep getting repeated:  “just close your eyes.”  The small government advocate has been putting big government in between women and their doctors and has already passed an anti-abortion law so restrictive it threatens the ability of Pennsylvania women to get the procedure anywhere but a major hospital at the end of June.  Unless the PA Department of Health grants waivers from the restrictions passed in SB 732 that will become the reality.  All women’s health centers will have to cease performing abortions by the end of June.  None of them can meet the stringent ASF regulations designed for surgical centers using general anesthesia.

Pennsylvanians disapprove of Corbett’s budgets by 49-36% and are really angry over higher education cuts:  53-27%.  The cuts to Pitt, Penn State, Temple, Lincoln and the 14 state universities reflect an overwhelming disapproval among women of 72-20%.  Transvaginal ultrasounds are disapproved by 64-23% and even legislators are bailing because of the feedback they’ve gotten from constituents.  They’ve killed the bill by sending it back to committee where it’ll die a quick death.  No one wants to go face the voters this year after seeing these numbers.

Corbett’s predilection of not facing the press or the public any more than absolutely necessary has shielded him from some exposure as the dolt that he is but sooner or later he’ll have to face the voters.  Stubbornness has a bad habit of making former Governors of stupid people and Corbett has never illustrated any indication of being anything more than a pretty boy whose elevator doesn’t reach the top floor.  Barring his own elevator to a group of disabled Pennsylvanians may also wind up being shown ad nauseum on campaign ads the next go round.  That one really was stupid.  As they say though, stupid is as stupid does…

Spending Twice as Much on Prisons as on Universities

( – promoted by John Morgan)

A blog post by Chris Lilienthal, originally published at Third and State.

It is no secret that Governor Tom Corbett has proposed deep cuts to higher education institutions in Pennsylvania for the second year in a row.

But just what do those cuts mean? Well, we have two charts at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center’s web site that speak louder than words when it comes to funding cuts for colleges and universities.

If enacted, the Governor’s 2012-13 budget will result in a funding cut for higher education of one-third since the start of the recession.

Public Colleges Cuts by One Third Since Start of Recession

This budget will also mean that come 2013 Pennsylvania will be spending twice as much on prisons as on colleges and universities.

In 2013 PA Will Spend Twice as Much on Prison as on Colleges and Universities

‘Cutting Training for Jobs the Economy Needs Most’

A blog post by Michael Wood, originally published at Third and State.

When you have a moment, check out this New York Times article on the impact of state cuts to public higher education across the country – and the impact they are having on our economy. These types of short-sighted cuts, like the 20% reduction in higher education funding proposed by Governor Corbett this year, put us in a worse position today and down the road.

The article highlights some of the “efficiencies” we could see if the cuts keep coming:

As state funding has dwindled, public colleges have raised tuition and are now resorting to even more desperate measures – cutting training for jobs the economy needs most.

Technical, engineering and health care expertise are among the few skills in huge demand even in today’s lackluster job market. They are also, unfortunately, some of the most expensive subjects to teach.

Pennsylvania has a long history of shortchanging higher education funding, coming in 45th (as a share of personal income) or 46th (per capita) in the the amount of state support for higher education in FY 2011, according to annual Grapevine survey.

If we want a well-educated workforce to fill the jobs of tomorrow, we have to invest in educating them today.

Must Read: The Inequality Governor Strikes Again

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

One of the factors driving the increase in inequality prior to 2000 was the growing gap between the wages of colleges graduates and everyone else.

Therefore, a straightforward policy to limit the rise in inequality would open the door to college attendance for the children of low-income adults. However, as the figure below illustrates, gifted but low-income children are much less likely to complete college compared to similarly gifted but high-income children. In fact, these gifted, low-income children are as likely to complete college as the least academically gifted, high-income children.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports this morning that proposed budget cuts by the Corbett administration are likely to lead to fewer courses offered at satellite locations of the State System of Higher Education. Satellite locations are more likely to serve students from low-income families.

One portion of the University of Pittsburgh and the other state-related college campuses that will look different if state funding continues to decrease is their branch campuses, testified top administrators on Wednesday.

Those satellite locations provide a valuable public service in sparsely populated areas, often serving lower-income students who may not have other opportunities, said Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Penn State University president Rodney Erickson.

“They would be the most vulnerable units of the university if we are pushed to privatization,” Mr. Nordenberg told state senators during a second budget hearing.

Afterward, when pressed on the future of Pitt’s branches in Johnstown, Bradford, Titusville and Greensburg, Mr. Nordenberg declined to speculate as to whether any may need to be closed. But he did say private universities do not usually offer branch options and that many more minor changes to achieve cost savings already have been implemented.