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June 26, 2008

Appropriation deadline looms

Pitt’s trustees will meet June 27, but students and employees will remain in suspense about how the University’s state appropriation will impact their financial future.

The board plans to take no budget action at Friday’s meeting, said John Fedele, Pitt’s associate director of news.

Both the University and the state mark the end of their fiscal years on June 30, but Pitt’s budget, including changes in tuition and employee compensation, isn’t acted on until the state approves the University’s appropriation. Budget talks are continuing in Harrisburg, but a deal isn’t expected before the end of the fiscal year.

The state Senate responded to Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s proposed budget last week by passing a $27.9 billion version (SB1389) that cuts nearly $400 million from the governor’s $28.3 billion proposal. The Senate version went to the House appropriations committee June 23.

A summary of the House (HB2380) and Senate changes to the governor’s proposed budget has been compiled by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center in a chart available at

Bills for Pitt’s appropriation are poised for action in the state House (HB2315) and Senate (SB1457) appropriations committees, but cannot be acted upon until legislators agree on overall state spending for FY09. (A state budget deal must precede approval of the separate bills for non-preferred appropriations for entities such as Pitt and its fellow state-related universities.) Pitt’s current state appropriation of $186.9 million represents about 11 percent of the University’s $1.64 billion operating budget.

Paul Supowitz, Pitt’s vice chancellor for governmental relations and associate general counsel, said he is not expecting to see a state budget approved before June 30 but he doesn’t anticipate a lengthy delay either.

He predicted that it could be only a matter of days into the new fiscal year before the state budget and Pitt’s appropriation are determined and Pitt trustees can take action on the University’s FY09 budget.

Typically, if Pitt’s state appropriation is not passed in time for University trustees to take action at their June meeting, the board’s budget and executive committees meet to approve the University’s operating budget once the state appropriation is finalized.

Ideally, a new state budget is passed prior to the end of the fiscal year, although legislators have not done so since 2002. Last year, delays in passing a budget prompted the governor to furlough 25,000 state workers on July 9, calling them back to work a day later after a tentative measure was approved. The governor signed the FY08 budget July 17; the Pitt trustees’ executive committee three days later approved the University’s FY08 budget, including hikes in tuition and the compensation pool.

This year, legislators also are debating a bill (SB1122) that would allow state workers to continue to be paid in the absence of a new budget, avoiding a repeat of last year’s furloughs.

Supowitz acknowledged that it appears again to be a tight budget year and Pitt administrators are bracing for the prospect of another appropriation that falls far short of the University’s request.

In Pitt’s annual request for state support submitted last September, the University asked for an 8.5 percent appropriation increase for FY09 in order to limit tuition increases to 4 percent and to increase the compensation pool by a minimum of 4 percent.

Rendell’s proposed budget calls for a 4.2 percent increase in the total state budget, but much less for its support of the state-related universities. The governor’s budget proposed a total of $170.33 million in state support for Pitt, an increase of 1.5 percent in Pitt’s education and general (E&G) budget and an overall increase of about 1.27 percent.

The governor proposed $166.78 million for E&G support, $435,000 for student life initiatives, $442,000 for recruitment of the disadvantaged, $523,000 for the WPIC Services for Teens at Risk program and $2.16 million for rural education outreach.

Supowitz said governmental relations staff have been working to make local legislators and statewide leaders aware of Pitt’s needs. The University also has encouraged its grassroots networks of alumni, faculty, staff and friends of the University to contact their own legislators.

“We’re still hopeful to move up from the governor’s proposed 1.2 percent,” Supowitz said, acknowledging that could be tough given the pressure in Harrisburg to hold the line on taxes coupled with the governor’s proposed initiatives to increase state spending on health care and basic education initiatives.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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