The deadline for adopting a 2022-23 budget for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is today.
While there are many hurdles to pass to get to completion, one involves the University of Pittsburgh as a bargaining chip.
On Monday, the State House voted 108-92 to approve an amendment to a bill for public funding for the Commonwealth’s four state-related universities – Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln. Last year, Pennsylvania allocated nearly $600 million to those four institutions with funds going to subsidize in-state tuition. The amendment reads “In order to receive a payment under subsection (a), the State-related university must not engage in research or experimentation using fetal tissue obtained from an elective abortion.”
According to the website research.pitt.edu/researchfacts, “Scientists at Pitt have used fetal tissue to better understand the efficacy and safety of certain treatments for HIV, AIDS and cancer. As another example, by learning how the placenta protects the fetus against viral infections, researchers are able to keep more mothers and their babies healthy and safe.” The website goes to state, “Research involving fetal tissue is tightly regulated. Researchers must follow strict regulatory requirements at both the state and federal level. In fact, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly has already enacted some of the nation’s strictest state-level limitations on fetal tissue research.”
The University of Pittsburgh ranks eighth among the top-10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, receiving over $323 million. The others in the top 10 include the University of California, San Francisco, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, U. of Pennsylvania, UCLA, North Carolina, Michigan, UC San Diego and Emory.
“My goal is to stop these horrible actions. My goal is not to stop the funding,” the amendment’s sponsor, Jerry Knowles (R-Schuylkill), said on the House floor Monday. “As a matter of fact, I want to help Pitt get themselves out of a problem that they created.”
He called fetal-tissue research “gruesome, grotesque, grisly,” and invited his audience to “visualize hair being grafted on the back of a rodent” — an apparent reference to earlier research that involved research into human skin infections using rats as hosts.
State senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) tweeted, “Pitt is performing life-sustaining research that has the opportunity to help millions of people with their illnesses. The university’s research has broken ZERO laws or rules. Republicans are inserting politics in groundbreaking research.”
Opposition against the amendment did not come from the majority of Pittsburgh-area lawmakers, as Carrie DelRosso (R-Allegheny/Westmoreland), Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny), Rob Mercuri (R-Allegheny) and Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Westmoreland) voted in favor of the ban. Only Lori Mizgorski (R-Allegheny) who is running for the 38th District state senate seat voted against the proposal.
Pennsylvania’s legislative rules call for two-thirds of legislators to agree to fund educational institutions that are not under the complete control of the state, such as Pitt. In simpler terms, it takes 68 Republican representatives to stop Pitt and others from receiving taxpayer dollars.
Sophomore Dominic Victoria said, “I love Pitt. But, when it comes down to it, you’ve got to be realistic financially. I would not have come here without an in-state tuition,” he said. “I would have made another university — one out-of-state — work.”
“Cost of in-state tuition for Pennsylvania students would go up between $12,000 and $14,000 a year,” Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) told KDKA-TV, “so you’re talking about $50,000 to $60,000 over the course of a 4-year college education.” Frankel also sits on the Pitt Board of Trustees.