Gov. Tom Wolf’s attempt to redline the state’s $30.1 million allocation to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has been laid to rest — for now.
In an about-face aimed to stop several universities from raising tuition, Wolf signed a series of bills on Oct. 27 that provide $600 million to state institutions as well as to PennVet.
The governor’s plan to defund PennVet, announced in February, was part of a spending proposal that contained $2 billion in statewide spending cuts intended to plug a projected $3 billion budget deficit. On the chopping block was the $30.1 million allocation to PennVet, representing 23 percent of the school’s $129 million annual operating budget
Supporters of the cut argued that as part of a private, Ivy League university with a $10 billion-plus endowment, PennVet wasn’t entitled to taxpayer support. The assertion prompted Dean Joan Hendricks to embark on a lobbying campaign last spring to point out what the program does to support agriculture, the state’s No. 1 industry, disease surveillance and subsidized tuition for residents. Unsubsidized tuition and fees come to $55,798 a year. Students from Pennsylvania receive an annual $10,000 break on their tuition.
In an interview with the VIN News Service in April, Hendricks hinted that a loss of taxpayer support would alter the program’s symbiotic relationship with the state. "Penn is private, but we operate more like a state school," she said. "If we lose our state funding … we would no longer be Pennsylvania's veterinary school, which is how we've always thought of ourselves and operated.”
Hendricks added that the threat of such a large cut hurt the program’s ability to recruit students and incited fear in those already attending the program. “Our students are losing their minds over this,” she said.
The dean did not respond to an email from the VIN News Service on Thursday.
Program administrators announced the finalization of its allocation on PennVet’s website. Ron Ozio, director of the university’s media relations, said by email: “The Pennsylvania Legislature recognized the economic and health value of Penn Vet to the people of the Commonwealth. We are grateful for that vote of confidence.”
He did not answer a question about how the program got by while the allocation was in limbo.
It’s unknown whether that confidence will be carried into subsequent budget negotiations. The Pennsylvania General Assembly has become notorious in recent years for grinding, protracted budget negotiations with unpredictable outcomes.
Budget talks resume in early 2018 for the fiscal year that begins July 1.