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February 18, 2010

No hike for Pitt in governor’s FY11 budget proposal

rendellPennsylvania’s state-related universities, including Pitt, would see no increase in their appropriation under Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s fiscal year 2010-11 budget plan, although the proposal includes increased spending for public education.

In his Feb. 9 budget message, Rendell expressed support for public education as a key driver of economic development. Still, he held state funding for state-related universities, community colleges and State System of Higher Education schools flat.

Rendell’s proposed $29 billion general fund budget, which includes nearly $2.8 billion in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, includes $12.3 billion for education. PreK-12 education would get a $448 million boost (a 4.9 percent increase) and basic education subsidies would receive an additional $354.8 million (a 6.4 percent increase) under the governor’s plan.

Rendell’s proposal would appropriate $282.1 million for community colleges, $503.4 million for state system schools and $688.4 million for the four state-related universities.

Of that $688.4 million, Pitt would receive $168 million, Penn State would get $333.86 million, Temple University would receive $172.7 million and Lincoln University would receive $13.78 million.

In addition to the state appropriation, the governor proposed $17.67 million in support for the School of Medicine, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Pitt’s dental clinic and the Center for Public Health Practice. That funding — a combination of state support and federal dollars —comes through the Department of Public Welfare budget.

The flat funding was not unexpected, said Pitt’s Vice Chancellor for Governmental Relations Paul A. Supowitz. “At the same time, there is concern about what happens in the following year when the federal recovery act money is no longer there,” he said, noting that the University is hopeful that legislators  will  consider  this “funding cliff” in their deliberations and perhaps add some state dollars to the current budget so that FY12 will not become such a dramatic challenge.

Rendell’s plan addressed the statewide impact of the funding cliff, in part, by proposing to eliminate 74 current sales tax exemptions and cut state sales tax from the current 6 percent to 4 percent, with the promise that the money generated would go into a stimulus reserve fund to make the transition easier.

Tuition would remain exempt from sales tax, but the University could be affected by the proposed changes. Although the potential impact still is being assessed, Supowitz cited as an example athletic tickets, which, while subject to amusement tax, now are exempt from sales tax.

The governor’s budget proposal, typically made in early February, is one step in the state’s annual budget process. Budget hearings are held before the House and Senate appropriations committees, then a final budget is proposed for approval by the legislature.

Final passage of the budget is due by the June 30 fiscal year end, although in recent years, legislators have missed the mark.

The current fiscal year’s budget was signed by the governor Oct. 9 — well beyond the June 30 deadline.

Pitt’s appropriation wasn’t finalized until Dec. 17 due to the legislature’s inability to agree on table games legislation, which Rendell insisted was necessary in order to balance the state budget and fund appropriations for non-preferred institutions. (See Jan. 7 University Times.)

In his budget message, Rendell commended legislators for accelerating the pace of this year’s legislative budget hearings, following widespread criticism of their inability to pass a timely FY09-10 budget. Those hearings already are underway.

The House committee’s budget hearing for the state-related universities is set for Feb. 23; the Senate hearing is slated for March 3.

“We can disagree about what’s in the budget but let’s agree to get on with the budget and get it done on time for the people of Pennsylvania,” Rendell said.

The proposed budget can be viewed at

— Kimberly K. Barlow

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