Opening more info through records at Penn State, Temple, Pitt

A major open records bill has passed the Pennsylvania Senate and awaits action in the House that would significantly expand what financial information state-related universities are required to share with the public.

Senate Bill 488, sponsored by Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Chambersburg, would create an online database of financial information on budgets, contracts and salaries for Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln universities.

While exact salaries would not be required, but rather ranges, the bill would mandate reporting on the top 200 earners at a university, up from the current top 25, as The Center Square previously reported.

Pennsylvania’s open record laws have lagged behind many other states in what public institutions or taxpayer-funded institutions are required to disclose.

“The value of Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law has proven itself time and again, but it’s not perfect by any means,” Mastriano said in a statement. “This bill crucially expands its scope to include pertinent public records at state-related universities, as 47 out of 50 other states already do.”

Mastriano, who is the Republican nominee for governor, has argued the public has a right to know how public dollars are spent.

“State-related universities will receive more than $600 million from taxpayers this year and the way that money is spent shouldn’t be a closely-guarded secret,” Mastriano said. “This legislation offers a level of transparency necessary to keep these universities accountable to the public they serve.”

A letter to Mastriano’s office signed by representatives of three state-related universities supported the bill, though they emphasized their unique status.

“We believe that the bill represents a significant expansion of the type and amount of financial information from the state-related universities available currently for public inspection. However, the bill does maintain the careful balance” of the public interest against state-relateds’ desire for some limits on information access, wrote Zack Moore of Penn State, George Kenney of Temple, and David Brown of Pittsburgh.

Mastriano’s Senate staff expects the bill to be voted on before the end of the year.

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