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Temple University targeted for political payback


Having spent the better part of last week arguing with State Senator Daylin Leach over the morality of raising taxes, the perils of public dependency on poorly provided government services and the amount of wasted taxpayer dollars, it appears I’m about to eat my words.

Kind of.

As the parent of a Temple University sophomore, I received an urgent email in my inbox yesterday from Temple stating that funding in the amount of $175 million was going to be withheld by the state legislature, which, if it happened, would necessitate a rise in tuition of $5,000 per year or 45%.

As I did not have all of the facts at my disposal, I naturally assumed that this was part of the PA Budget cuts I argued for so forcefully last week with Daylin Leach. I asked my co-worker whose daughter is starting at Pitt in a few weeks if she received a similar email, becuase I was aware that the “state affiliated” schools–Temple, Pitt, Lincoln and Penn State—had been targeted for budget cuts, but because I had just paid my daughter’s tuition bill for the fall semester, I had seen that in spite of those cuts that the University had been successfulll in holding down costs and was only implementing a 2.5% increase in tuition for the 2009-10 year. Was this something new, I wondered, and was it another budget cut that was going to affect the other state-affiliated schools?

Indeed, upon researching the matter I found that Rendell had implemented funding cuts of $21 Million for this year, which, obviously, the University was unhappy about, but made the necessary adjustments to their budget. The June 30, 2009 press release from Temple’s web site:

Temple University, with the other state-related universities, received bad news last week. Gov. Ed Rendell announced his intent to cut the Commonwealth’s appropriation to the four state-related universities for the coming fiscal year by 12.8 percent, and declared that Temple, Penn State, Pitt, and Lincoln universities were being cut out of federal stimulus funding. For Temple University, this would mean an appropriation cut of more than $21 million in addition to the loss of $10.5 million in expected stimulus funding.

Rendell made the announcement on Friday, as part of a sweeping series of budget cuts designed to help balance the 2009-2010 state budget, as required by the state Constitution.

(…)

While the four state-related universities were hit with the 12.8 percent appropriation reduction in the Governor’s proposal, the colleges and universities that are part of the State System of Higher Education and the community colleges were not subject to the same cuts because of requirements for the state to receive federal stimulus funding.

The Governor declared the state-related schools were “not public” because they are not under his “complete control,” and therefore could be excluded from the requirements for federal stimulus funding.

“The Governor’s position flies in the face of the Temple University-Commonwealth Act that made Temple an instrumentality of the Commonwealth and an integral part of the state’s system of higher education in 1965,” said George Moore, senior vice president and university counsel. “It also appears to contradict the terms and intent of the federal stimulus bill.

“The state of Pennsylvania has benefitted greatly from its state-related schools,” Moore added. The Governor’s position will not only do great harm to the state-related schools, but will adversely impact the many Pennsylvania students and their families who depend on us for their futures.”

I can live with the belt tightening. Indeed, I applaud it. I’m not happy about perpetual tuition increases, and, though I am very happy withthe quality of education my daughter is getting at Temple, I think that a college education in general is already overpriced, but I am willing to suck up the cost of incremental cuts if they are fiscally necessary.

This $175 million cut is something else, however. This is political payback from a local politician who is miffed at Temple for closing a hospital in his district that was on track to lose some $15 million last year:

Hundreds of Temple University students were on red alert yesterday when they learned of a legislative effort to deprive the college of $175 million in state and federal funds.

Temple officials said that the loss in funding would lead to a $5,000 increase in tuition for undergraduates, sending students into a tizzy on Facebook and Twitter.

Many were unaware that state Rep. John Taylor and other lawmakers had taken steps to make good on a pledge made several months ago, during an ill-fated battle to save Northeastern Hospital, to withhold the funds.

Temple University Health System closed the longtime Port Richmond hospital on June 30 because of financial losses.

Taylor told the Daily News on Tuesday that a bill that would provide Temple with the $175 million through a nondeferred appropriation was pulled from the House of Representatives. Bills regarding other state universities were allowed to move to the next step.

The Temple bill was scheduled to be reintroduced yesterday, but “we got it delayed again,” Taylor said.

House members won’t vote on appropriations for Temple and other universities until after the state budget is settled.

Two-thirds of the House must vote in favor of each school’s appropriation for it to pass. Taylor said he believes that he’s convinced lawmakers to vote against awarding Temple any funds.

“I think I had a lot of those votes secured way back,” he said. “Once members make commitments to other members, it’s hard to change that.”

While I still feel like I’m compromising my principles somewhat by contacting my congressmen in support of Temple, this is not a budget issue; it’s political blackmail between this congressman’s ego and the University with the parents and students caught in the middle; it’s not like witholding this funding is going to bring back Northeastern Hospital. But like many legislators who let their egos get in the way of their constituencies, Rep. John Taylor is only concerned with making the University sweat by withholding money that belongs to the taxpayers. He is not punishing Temple, he’s punishing the students, and Temple, apparently, is well aware of that, hence the outreach to parents, student and alumni.

We budgeted my daughter’s college savings payments based upon our estimates of what Temple’s tuition would be. Effectively doubling that tuition will make continuing her education there impossible. This situation applies to all of Temples 27,000 students as well.

Here is Temple’s new release about the witholding of funds. Temple is a great school and I urge readers to contact their representatives in support of Temple University.

August 6, 2009 at 7:55 am
4 comments »
  • August 6, 2009 at 11:47 amCaryn Hutn

    This is not ‘political blackmail’ at all. This is something local legislators, not just one with a large ego (in fact, he really doesn’t have a large ego, he just cares about his community), promised Temple they would do if Temple wouldn’t try, with help from state and other elected officials to figure out a way to preserve access to care to the community they serve. Temple University Health System bought a number of hospitals in Northeast Philadelphia and have systematically closed them or closed crucial departments. They have continually, over the years, made choices detrimental to the community in which their hospitals are located, particularly in regards to maternity and emergency care.

    Temple was only required by the state to give a two month notice before closing Northeastern, a full service hospital with 55,000 ER visits last year. That was the minimum requirement, and that’s all they did. They refused to discuss options with local civic groups, local, state or federal politicians. They believed because of the timing that politicians would not follow through on their threat; they were wrong. Politicians, and not just one, are following through on their promise that they would do this. Temple is being treated like the bad community actor it is.

    Temple doesn’t have to raise tuition. Check out their budget, $1 billion in revenues- http://www.temple.edu/budget/documents/boardandauxiliarybudgets.pdf.

    Temple’s health system decisions come down to their attempt to cherry pick their patient base. There were lots of offers of help because the need in that community is real.

  • August 6, 2009 at 12:57 pmjerry silberman

    Don’t fall for Temple’s characterization. The closure of NE was done in the most arrogant way possible, with Temple refusing to meet with anyone in the community to consider alternatives, following on years of promises from Temple to continue service in exchange for political support.
    The tuition hike is a blackmail itself. The $175 is about 17% of Temple’s overall revenue. Closing Northeastern is one of many ways in which Temple’s current administration has made it a bad actor, including refusal to bargain in good faith with its campus unions, and spending huge amounts in frivolous legal action against their employee unions at both the academic and health enterprises. (Frivolous in that they have almost always lost over the past several years, but continue to play the legal games out in an effort to demoralize their employees)

    If Temple treated its employees, students, and patients with respect, this would not be an issue. Temple is hugely connected in Harrisburg, using Ballard Spahr (Rendell’s law firm) and employing a former Republican state rep as chief lobbyist. They are used to getting their way, and probably will in the end, but hopefully will make some adjustments and recognize their public mission and status.

  • August 6, 2009 at 8:01 pmLisaMossie

    Caryn and Jerry,
    Thanks for illuminating the other side of this story. I’ve had no first hand experience with the Temple health system, though my daughter was a patient at the University Hospital last year and tells me she got excellent care.
    A couple of points:
    In my reading, the $175 MM appropriation amounts to approximately 22% of Temple’s budget. That’s a big chunk, so regardless of how big their budget is, Caryn, I tend to think that it will have an impact on tuition. Are there programs they could cut, or professors who are overpaid? Certainly. But that is not what’s going to happen. Jerry I agree with your assertion that the tuition hike is blackmail—I believe I even made a reference to that myself.
    What strikes me about the whole situation is that there’s plenty of arrogance to go around; it looks like a pissing contest between a few legislators and a few pointy headed academics. But legislators withholding the appropriation as punishment for the University will only punish the students because that shortfall will be passed on, make no mistake. Furthermore, withholding that appropriation is not going to bring Northeast Hospital back. This story on KYW http://www.kyw1060.com/Lawmaker–No-Northeastern-Hosp—No-Money-for-Temp/4944620 says Temple reluctantly closed the hospital because “no one stepped in to help deal with its consistent red ink.”
    From an earlier KYW story when the closing of the hospital was announced on March 24:
    “The OB services that will remain here are going to be very much attuned to the needs of the OB market we’ve been historically serving, and we’ll have a full array of prenatal activity.”
    He says the only change they’ll notice is the three-mile distance to Temple University Hospital, where the babies will be delivered.”
    I realize that city hospitals serve a much greater population than do suburban ones, but my closest hospital out here is a good five miles away (and I wouldn’t go to it—I’d drive the 16 miles to Bryn Mawr or Paoli), so while three miles doesn’t really seem like such a hardship to me, I have no idea whether the University Hospital is equipped to handle the additional volume.
    http://www.kyw1060.com/pages/4074335.php
    Although I came down on the side of the University, I’m not buying into their characterization of the situation hook line and sinker. As a matter of fact, I barely read their press releases before I searched the internet for the story. My sources were the Inky, the Daily News and KYW. I still believe that this punishment does not fit the crime; if Temple is, as you both say, a bad steward of community hospitals, then it seems to me that a more fitting retribution would be to block the next purchase of a health care venue that they try to make. Jerry, to your last comments, Temple has treated my daughter and my family with respect in every dealing. The fact that they hold tuition over the heads of students’ families is something every educational institution does and something I am very familiar with since I have been a tuition paying parent for almost 10 years now. And while Ballard Spahr may be the law firm of choice for Rendell cronies, it does not necessarily follow that all clients of Ballard Spahr are Rendell cronies.
    Once again, I thank you both for your thoughtful and intelligent responses, but I’m afraid I’m still coming down for the University, and not just because they have the potential to impact my finances in a significant way, but because I do not think the “punishment” fits the “crime”. I agree, in the long run, that Temple will probably get their way and I think at the end of the day that Representative Taylor will be happy that he was able to make them sweat.

  • August 7, 2009 at 4:51 pmAlex Salomon

    Hi folks, I agree completely with Lisa M.. I add that one of the reasons we got to this state is that health care for the more impoverished and vulnerable is woefully under or unfunded. When many patients are medicaid or uninsured, and yet costs are staggering (unionized staff pay, malpractice insurance, supplies, etc.), red ink will flow. Temple Health System is not Microsoft, Comcast, or Google in terms of gross receipts. Its mission is more noble, and it’s nonprofit. It has to more cautiously watch its checkbook, and frequently overdraws and has to take out loans, which are tough to pay back. As Lisa said, to suddenly remove funding from Temple and its health system mostly punishes students and employees, folks who have nothing to due with the whole unfortunate situation.

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