A group of education and civil rights organizations yesterday urged Supreme Court review of a Pennsylavania law that gives the state legislature control over federal funds received by the state.
The 32 organizations opposing the measure say it represents a growing confrontation between state governors and legislatures over the spending of up to $30 billion a year in federal funds. They have asked the Justice Department to enter the case on their side. That request is being considered.
The Pennsylvania statute and similar bills proposed in 11 other states could spell the doom of public higher education and social welfare programs if the legislators prevail, said Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the measure in 1976. Gov. Milton J. Shapp challenged it in court as a violation of the state's constitution, after his veto of parts of the measure was overridden. The law was upheld in lower courts and by the state supreme court in July. It is on appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The coalition of groups that denounced the law yesterday have filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the court to hear the case and to find the law in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The case could have vast implications for public higher education nationwide, because public institutions would have an increased percentage of their funding subject to state legislators' approval, a potential threat to academic freedom in such institutions, said Allan W. Ostar, head of the American Association of State Coleges and Universities CAASCU.
Until 1976, the General Assembly annually had passed a general measure, essentially approving expenditure of federal funds by executive branch agencies for the purposes designated in Washington. With the rising federal portion of Pennsylvania's budget, up to 25 percent in 1976 the legislators voted to consider each appropriation individually.
While they cannot shift whole categories - they cannot, for instance use housing funds for parks - they can withhold disbursements or change the use of monies within a given category, such as taking money intended for administration of an anti/drug-abuse program and using it to hire more counselors instead.
The mandate for state legislative approval also slows the budgetary process and has left some Pennsylvania institutions and students in suspense over expected financial aid, Ostar said.For the past two years, students have arrived at state colleges not knowing whether funds would be available, according to AASCU governmental relations director John Mallen.
Ostar said some state colleges have attributed declining enrollments to the uncertainty over funding, and some have been unable to apply for research grants and other federal monies because of legislative delays.
"We've following the law, but it's caused a tremendous increase in the amount of paperwork," Pennsylvania budget secretary Charles P. McIntosh said yesterday. The department "has had to create additional [jobs] to handle the accounting and budgeting requirements" under the law, according to chief budgeting analyst Robert Bittenbender. McIntosh said he believes the law "was not worth the bother."
The law also affects federal aid to minorities, the handicapped and the health field, and research in defense, science and other fields, Shanker said. He said that if every state legislature had the power to delay or veto funds, as Pennsylvania's can, the federal government's ability to implement programs for the national interest would be wiped out.
Budget analyst Bittenbender said Pennsylvania lawmakers have not used the veto powers of the law to deny funding except in minor deviations such as reducing day-care expenditures.
One of the most active supporters of laws such as Pennsylvania's is the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, an appointed federal body that has designed model bills and urged states to adopt them.
Opponents to the law have proposed that Congress add an amendment to each appropriations measure denying federal aid to any state with such a law.