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What other newspapers are saying: Why so quiet, Gov. Wolf?

There usually is nothing politicians love better than their moments of benevolent generosity.

Legislators who opposed a program they deemed a pork project will nonetheless stand beaming with a large sweepstakes-winner-style check for a photo opportunity. The negotiations about who will announce a grant, loan or other funding when the money originates with the federal government, passes through the state and trickles to a municipality is akin to making the seating chart for a peace treaty signing. Everyone wants in.

And so it is odd that Gov. Tom Wolf didn’t really ask for credit on a bequest when he could have taken all the bows.

As Pennsylvania was locked in its almost annual budget showdown, with one of the bones of contention being education funding and the funding for state and state-related universities a factor, there were questions about how the math would work out.

Some legislators were going back and forth on how to cut the financial pie. Others were quibbling on other political or philosophical grounds, such as the University of Pittsburgh’s fetal tissue research. There was even a proposal from state Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield, that would give money to students rather than universities directly.

Eventually, the budget was passed and the issue of whether to limit the fetal tissue research because of its controversial abortion ties was split off and attached to other legislation. The governor signed the budget bill, and Harrisburg retreated to its uneasy status quo.

But Wolf is giving the four state-related universities — Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln — an added bonus. It’s a 5% boost to their funding, about $40 million total. It didn’t require negotiation or compromise. It’s purely in the governor’s purview from a $412 million pot of discretionary funds granted to Wolf by the Legislature from pandemic response funds.

Spotlight PA has identified how Wolf has spent $128 million or so: the retention bonuses he paid to state employees; food bank upgrades; student loan relief; and apprenticeships for nurses. All of those were trumpeted in news releases and on the governor’s website.

Why not crow about the $40 million to universities that have the broadest reach in the state, with 35 campuses among them? That’s more than double the number of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools. They represent more than 135,000 students, more than PASSHE’s 120,000.

In recent weeks, these students have been told they will pay more money. Pitt’s in-state rate at the Oakland campus is going up 3.5%. After several years of freezes, Penn State’s tuition is climbing 5% at its flagship campus and 2% at the branches — although the bill for students from homes with less than $75,000 incomes won’t rise.

It is not a shock that Wolf would prioritize the universities. Since his first campaign, increasing money for education from preschool to post-secondary has been a refrain for him. Nothing about directing the money there is unusual.

The only thing that doesn’t make sense is the lack of attention given to it, which seems all the more political in its silence.

— Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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