Governor Corbett has been criticized for not engaging the media early in his term.
Well, if he acted like a silent movie star before announcing his first budget, then his actual budget address and his recent interview with me have been treated with the fanfare of a big- budget Hollywood blockbuster.
In his budget address, Corbett struck the theme that the commonwealth is facing a $4 billion hole, and what he calls the "education industry" shouldn't be insulated from helping to fill it. This has led to proposed cutbacks in state funding for local school districts, but the most controversial cutbacks involve Pennsylvania colleges and universities that receive significant state funding.
Corbett is particularly locked in combat with Penn State.
To many in this area, Penn State is Joe Pa and Nittany Lions football. But the reality goes far beyond the gridiron. Penn State is a behemoth with a $4 billion annual budget and 47,000 employees, enough people to fill nearly half of Beaver Stadium (compared with 96,000 students, an amazing ratio).
Do you think it's possible that Penn State could tighten its budget belt a notch or two?
The reaction of Penn State President Graham Spanier to the Corbett cuts of over half of the current state subsidy was to threaten Armageddon. He almost immediately said he'd shut campuses. Not one Spanier sound bite was devoted to looking in the financial mirror.
If you think Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey took on a Goliath in the New Jersey teachers' union, Corbett is in the ring with an equal foe in Penn State and the other Big College fat cats in Pennsylvania. Good for him.
Corbett told me: "I was sorely disappointed that the first reaction from Penn State was to say that this is a catastrophic budget. This is going to cause them to raise tuition and maybe close campuses. Rather than say, 'Let's talk a little and see what we can do. Let's do what every other business, what every other family is doing. Let's tighten our belts and see where we can save money.' "
I agree with Corbett's position and his common-sense reaction. Penn State and the other colleges immediately make this about middle-class kids and start the mantra that Corbett is trying to turn Pennsylvania into a higher-education wasteland.
On my radio show, Corbett went on to provide a good deal of context to these issues with Penn State. He told me, about the state share of the PSU budget, "We proposed cutting them 50 percent, which is only 4 percent of their overall budget.
"Later, I discover that over the last 10 years, they received $3.5 billion from the state for their budget. At the same time, they increased tuition 110 percent.
"Even when they were getting state money, they continued to increase tuition. It went from $6,000 and some odd dollars to $14,000 and some odd dollars. Can you imagine a family that has two kids maybe five or six years apart seeing the difference in those tuitions?"
Corbett is correct. Penn State, according to USA Today, is routinely the state university nationwide with the highest tuition. One fact that might explain that bears repeating: 96,000 students - and 47,000 full-time employees, an enormous number of people.
Probably the most heated rhetoric between Corbett and the higher-education activists revolves around the charge that Corbett is balancing his budget on the backs of middle-class students and the middle class in general. This angers Corbett, and he's made the point to me that the first reflex of Spanier and others has been to raise tuition - refusing to cut any of their spending - and balance the budget . . . on the backs of the students and their families.
I agree with Corbett that his budget is just a proposal and a chance to examine why the cost of college is so high. Why is Big College immune from the same financial imperatives that businesses and families have to abide by? You don't have to be a math professor or MBA to realize that Big College budgets, like their tuition, only go in one direction: up.
I've also written about state-funded Lincoln University, which continues to employ journalism professor Kaukab Siddique, who has called for the violent destruction of Israel, is a Holocaust denier and the editor of publications that promote major Holocaust deniers. More examples of your tax dollars not at work.
So I think it's time for Pennsylvania taxpayers to examine the staggering costs of higher education in the state.
It's time to tell the educrats who run these ivory towers that there is a new reality.
Dom Giordano is he