On June 3, the Sunday Harrisburg Patriot News ran a front page report by Jan Murphy noting Governor Corbett’s misplaced priorities. This was the gist of the criticism: “The governor has resisted taxing Marcellus Shale natural gas drillers and wants to slash business taxes by $300 million. At the same time, he proposed drastic cuts in money for schools and cut off a state-subsidized health insurance program for nearly 42,000 low-income adults.” Corbett made his controversial decisions to cover a 4 billion dollar shortfall.
I’m not sure what’s wrong with the health-insurance cutback, despite the uniformly bad publicity it has received on Google, and particularly on Wikipedia. Although Pennsylvania’s soon to be eliminated Adult Basic plan was intended to cover low-income workers who are not eligible for Medicaid, the 40,000 recipients who will be losing it are being made eligible for another plan, Special Care, courtesy of Blue Cross-Blue Shield. What these applicants have to do to be reinsured is indicate interest in the low-costing, alternative plan and they will be accepted with a waiver of the preexisting condition stipulation. Of course it is hard to discover this information if one goes online, given the plethora of accusations leveled by public sector advocates against the budget-crunching Corbett.
There is also no shame that Corbett is trying to lure industries into the state. The Western part of Pennsylvania, from whence the governor comes, has been depressed and losing population for years. Tax breaks for shale drillers, moreover, seem equally praiseworthy. That too would benefit disproportionately poor mountainous regions, and since our country needs more energy sources to maintain the standard of living to which I’m sure even Ms. Murphy is accustomed, any increase in our natural gas supply could bring benefit beyond Pennsylvania.
One must also stress the difference between being taxed at a lower rate and being paid from public money. Tax relief designed to create jobs is not the same as being completely dependent on taxes. The state is not bestowing public money on the drillers or on industries. It is going easy on them in the short term to generate more jobs, which should result in added tax dollars. Public educators by contrast cost tax dollars; and they perform tasks that the private sector could also carry out, if the population was so inclined. I’m also not sure whether the added dollars Murphy would like Corbett to lavish on that loosely-defined entity “schools” would become salaries for teachers. That money might be diverted to other uses: for examples, adding to our already abundant supply of school administrators or putting more money into publicly subsidized pension funds for the educators. Let’s not pretend “it’s all for the kids.”
One means by which Corbett is saving money is reducing subsidies to state universities. He has reduced the annual state subsidy going to Penn State, from 334 million to 165 million dollars. The governor has suggested that one could make up for this reduced funding by charging higher tuitions. Note that state university faculty members have an unfair competitive advantage in relation to those teaching at private colleges. Thanks to tax money, faculty at Penn State and its branches and affiliate institutions earn on average one third more than those at private institutions. According to the Chronicles of Higher Education (June 22, 2011), professors and administrators in our state university system constitute 42% of those public employees earning more than $100,000 per annum. Their salaries often tower above those available at private colleges.
What is more, private college faculties usually bear greater teaching loads. Having just retired as the holder of a chair at a private college with heaps of publications, I discovered that much younger professors at state institutions with far fewer publications were receiving considerably higher salaries. Although I don’t begrudge these youngsters their good fortune, it would be fairer if their salaries came from higher tuitions rather than coerced taxpayers.
Here’s something else the public may not know. Not all teachers at state universities do as well as the fulltime professors. Universities farm out many of their courses to adjuncts or graduate students, who earn significantly less than regular faculty. This situation would not likely change, even if state universities were awash in tax dollars. Adjuncts are mostly superannuated graduate students who have never completed their doctoral work; and they’re cheap because they’re in plentiful supply.
We should also distinguish between teachers and professors and college administrators. According to today’s Chronicles of Higher Education, Penn State president Graham Spanier is the fifth highest paid college president in the US, earning an annual salary of over $800,000. But Spanier may be a true bargain. The president of Ohio State is pulling in 1.3 million dollars. Why should taxpayers be stiffed to pay for someone else’s extravagant lifestyle? Unlike private institutions that sometimes have to hire away corporate execs in order to raise money for them, state universities have no such need. They have a built-in clientele and until recently ample state subsidies. One final thought: with 24 branches of the state university and a number of other state-affiliated institutions of higher learning, there are lots of administrative waste and inflated salaries that could be cut. Corbett should list some of these expenses for the benefit of those universities he’s putting on a diet. But perhaps he shouldn’t, lest he start a riot.