Flat funding proposed for Pitt
Gov. Tom Wolf’s $32.34 billion state budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 includes a 2 percent increase for State System of Higher Education schools, but holds funding flat for state-related universities Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln.
Pitt’s state appropriation stands at $146.77 million, made up of $144.21 million in general support and $2.56 million for rural education outreach. The University had asked for a 5 percent increase in state support in the coming year. (See Oct. 13, 2016, University Times.)
The governor’s proposed budget reduces academic medical center funding in the Health and Human Services budget — down 17.7 percent — due to an anticipated decrease in federal medical assistance payments to academic medical centers, including Pitt’s medical school.
Wolf’s proposed budget, presented Feb. 7 before a joint legislative session in Harrisburg, included a $571.5 million, 1.8 percent increase in spending with no broad-based tax increases.
The governor’s proposal represents a starting point. It’s now up to the General Assembly to hammer out a final budget before the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
To that end, appropriations hearings are underway. The state-related universities are scheduled to present their budget testimony March 1 to the Senate appropriations committee. In a departure from past years, no hearing before the House appropriations committee is scheduled, although Pitt’s budget briefing package will be sent to the committee, Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, told the University Times.
In addition, advocates will plead the University’s case March 21 at the annual Pitt Day in Harrisburg. (See www.alumni.pitt.edu.)
University administrators have braced for a tough budget year to come. In remarks to the University Senate in December, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher cautioned that the University wasn’t ruling out the possibility of a cut in funding, in light of the state’s bleak financial outlook. (See Jan. 5 University Times.)
Supowitz acknowledged to the University Times that the proposed flat funding comes as no surprise, given the state’s lagging revenue collections and growing budget deficit.
At the fiscal year’s midway point in December, general fund collections were 2.7 percent, or $367 million, below estimate, according to the state Department of Revenue. And the department’s monthly revenue report shows that collections, as of the end of January, are $416.8 million, or 2.5 percent, below estimate.
The state’s Independent Fiscal Office is estimating revenues will be $716 million below estimate by the end of the fiscal year.
“We appreciate the governor’s effort to at least protect the small increase we’ve gotten in the past two years,” Supowitz said, adding that the state’s dire economic circumstances are magnified by the political situation in Harrisburg.
Wolf, a Democrat, must work with strong Republican majorities in the General Assembly. Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York), who has criticized the governor’s economic plans, has launched his campaign for the 2018 gubernatorial election.
—Kimberly K. Barlow