Governor proposes almost 11% hike in Pitt appropriation
Pennsylvania’s new governor is proposing an increase of nearly 11 percent in Pitt’s appropriation for fiscal year 2016.
As part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed $29.9 billion general fund budget, Pitt would see an increase of almost $14.92 million over the current $136.29 million state appropriation, for a total of $151.21 million.
“Our state is never going to get stronger as long as we make our schools weaker,” Wolf told a joint session of state legislators in his March 3 budget message that was focused on three key themes: schools that teach; jobs that pay, and government that works.
Wolf’s plan calls for reversing K-12 public school funding cuts made during Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration. “But this is not going to stop at simply reversing the cuts that have already taken place. We can’t, because the way things were before is not good enough,” the governor said. “This budget increases our investment in public schools at every grade level. It also recognizes that our responsibility to provide a great education does not begin at kindergarten nor does it end with high school. …
“That’s why we are increasing funding to community colleges by $15 million. And that is why we are restoring 50 percent of the cuts to our State System of Higher Education. But those improvements come with a string attached. In return for these increases, today I am calling on our institutions of higher education to freeze tuition, and I expect them to answer that call,” Wolf said.
The governor’s executive budget document clarifies the governor’s call for a tuition freeze, stating in part: “The budget calls on the community colleges and State System universities to freeze tuition for the next academic year” but does not mention Pitt and its fellow state-related schools.
Wolf’s budget proposal includes a $15.1 million (7 percent) increase in funding for community colleges and $45.3 million (11 percent) increase for the State System of Higher Education, as well as a combined $80.9 million increase in support for Pitt and its fellow state-related universities, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln, as part of a plan to restore the Corbett administration’s higher education cuts over the next two years.
Pitt’s share under Wolf’s proposal for FY16 includes $148.91 million in general support and $2.3 million in rural education outreach.
Ken Service, vice chancellor for communications, commented: “We appreciate Gov. Wolf’s recognition of the value of the University of Pittsburgh to the commonwealth and we look forward to working with him as a partner in fostering economic growth and prosperity for all Pennsylvanians. We take cost control very seriously at the University of Pittsburgh and we work hard to control and reduce costs on all five of our campuses while maintaining the expected quality of all aspects of our operations. That will continue to be the case as we serve the commonwealth by providing the highest quality educational opportunities to its citizens.”
The governor’s plan holds flat the statewide line item for academic medical center funding, part of the state’s human services budget, at $17.43 million.
Pitt, in its annual state funding request last fall, sought a 14.7 percent hike to its base appropriation for FY16 and a 5 percent increase in funding for the School of Medicine, the School of Dental Medicine and dental clinic, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and the Center for Public Health Practice. (See Oct. 9, 2014, University Times.)
Wolf, a Democrat, pitched his budget to a legislature held even more strongly by Republicans. In the November elections, Republicans gained eight seats to hold a 119-84 majority in the House and added three to hold a 30-20 majority in the Senate.
“I campaigned on the idea that we need a new approach to governing Pennsylvania — one that challenges the status quo and takes on old problems in fundamentally new ways. And one of the old problems we need to put to rest is the idea that Democrats and Republicans cannot work together to solve Pennsylvania’s problems,” said Wolf.
“I learned as a business owner that you can disagree with people without being disagreeable and that on every issue, if you are willing to talk, there’s a much better chance that you can find truths that both sides can share,” the governor said.
“The people of Pennsylvania need leaders today who are willing to listen to each other, learn from each other and work together to give all the people of this state a shot at a great life. That’s the different kind of approach we need to take to move Pennsylvania forward,” he told legislators in prefacing what he labeled a “different kind of budget” that includes both Democratic and Republican ideas as well as ideas that exist “beyond party lines.”
Wolf told legislators: “If you don’t agree with my ideas, here is my request: Please come with your own ideas. It’s not good enough just to say no and continue with the same-old, same-old. That’s our responsibility to the people of Pennsylvania. They may have voted for divided government, but they did not vote for gridlock or dysfunction.”
In his Feb. 18 report to Senate Council, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said he’d met in recent weeks with Gov. Wolf as well as with House and Senate leaders. “I think there’s a lot of hope and optimism that split governance can work,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher likewise was optimistic about state support for the University.
“We continue to explore areas of common interest and talk about their support for the University of Pittsburgh and for the state-related universities,” he said, adding, “You couldn’t ask for a better front seat” than yesterday’s Pitt Day in Harrisburg — scheduled just one day after Wolf’s budget presentation.
“The support for Pitt and for what Pitt can bring for the state is very strong. I think it will really hinge not on whether we have the support — I think we will,” Gallagher predicted. “The question will hinge on whether the state has the capacity to provide financial support, given some of the structural budget deficit issues that have to be worked out.”
The governor’s budget proposal is the starting point for annual state budget negotiations. Appropriations committee hearings in the House and Senate follow, with a deadline of June 30 for legislators to negotiate and approve a budget for the new fiscal year.
Representatives from Pitt and its fellow state-related universities are scheduled to present their budget testimony March 24 in hearings before the House and Senate appropriations committees in Harrisburg.
Details on the proposed state budget are posted at www.budget.state.pa.us.
—Kimberly K. Barlow