During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Wednesday in Harrisburg, Sen. Scott Wagner said that Pennsylvania’s 14 state colleges will not be around in four years.
Wagner, R, Spring Garden Township, told a panel that included a student body representative and the chancellor of the State System of Higher Education, “The union bosses have made sure that everybody has been highly taken care of and they are driving you into bankruptcy.”
That comment came after Wagner, who is running for governor, expressed his displeasure and frustration with the system’s annually-increasing, multi-million dollar pension liability and post-retirement health benefit costs.
Wagner noted that the pension liability for the state college system topped $1 billion in 2017 and that health insurance for system retirees was around $250 million in 2015.
“So, for those of you who think your school’s going to be around four years from now, it isn’t going to be around,” Wagner said.
“And I can tell you something, that we are going to stop pumping money into this system and it’s ridiculous.”
Later in the hearing, Wagner continued: “This is a system that was set up years ago. It is doomed for failure. Financially, there’s just no path out of this unless you just keep throwing more money in.”
Sen. Vincent Hughes, D, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, called Wagner out on those statements.
“For all the students in the room … the system is not going anywhere in four years,” Hughes, minority chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, said. “Your education is set, your education is solid. The state system of higher education is not going anywhere.”
“When people make irresponsible statements, ‘It’s gonna die, it’s gonna fall apart,’ it’s not going to happen, it’s irresponsible, it’s completely irresponsible.”
Hughes added that one reason the state colleges have burgeoning financial problems is because Pennsylvania ranks 47th out of 50 states in providing funds to higher education.
State System spokesman Kenn Marshall also responded to Wagner’s statements:
“To be clear, the State System is here to stay,” Marshall said in a statement to the York Daily Record. “Each of our 14 universities has served the people of this Commonwealth for more than a century. They will continue to do so for many years to come.”
The colleges and universities in the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, Edinboro, East Stroudsburg, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.