March 19, 2015

Budget Hearings: LCB Spars Over Prices, Mixed Reaction To Wolf’s Tuition Freeze

Higher education and the Liquor Control Board took center stage during Thursday’s House and Senate Appropriations Committees budget hearings.
  Mixed Reaction To Wolf’s Tuition Freeze
The Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday heard a mixed reaction to Gov. Wolf’s call to freeze tuition rates for the coming year from the PA State System of Higher Education and Community Colleges.
PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan told the Committee his Board of Governor’s does not like to increase tuition, but said state-owned universities will wait and see how state funding  works out before making any decisions.
“Commitments today without the ability to forecast where all of this is going to go at the end of the day doesn't give anybody any kind of advantage,” said Brogan. “Yes, we are very supportive of the governor's request and yes, we would love to see that request end up in reality, but at this point … the board felt that it was just impossible to make any commitments today other than sure we would like to hold the line on tuition.”
He noted the PASSHE Board makes its decisions on any increases in July after the July 1 deadline to have a new state budget it place.
Elizabeth Bolden, president and CEO of the PA Commission for Community Colleges, told the House Appropriations Committee maintaining low tuition rates is a priority for the Commission.
“If the colleges are able to continue to maintain quality academic programs, they need the funds to do so,” she said in support of the governor's $15 million proposed funding boost to community colleges. “The percentage of commonwealth dollars supporting community colleges statewide is about 20 percent … well below the 30 percent promised. It is certainly more than we have received in the past, but still significantly lower than state-run and state-related universities.”
Liquor Prices Take Center Stage
Liquor Control Board Chair Tim Holden told the House Appropriations Committee Thursday his hands are tied in negotiation with liquor suppliers because the Liquor Code requires the LCB to mark up the alcohol it sells proportional with the prices paid by the LCB.
He noted Virginia was able to get a lower price for product because they have a higher prices and suppliers sell to them at a lower cost.
House Republicans have objected to changing the current system in the past as a “revenue generating scheme” to generate more money for the state.
Holden also supported removing the limitation on stores operating expanded Sunday hours and changes that would allow casinos to offer alcohol past 2 a.m. and increase offers for complimentary drinks.
The LCB made available a “LCB Profit Enhancement Concepts” handout for the Committee outlining its support for other changes to enhance its operations.
Written testimony and a video of each House hearing will be posted on the Republican House Appropriations Committee webpage.  Information about Senate budget hearings are posted on the Senate Republican Caucus website.
Testimony Available
Kathleen Kane, Attorney General (Audio File)