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March 31, 2016

After nine months, state budget & Pitt appropriation pass

After a nine-month-long stalemate in Harrisburg, state lawmakers have approved $143.19 million in support for Pitt, along with a $6 billion supplemental budget.

Pitt’s appropriation of $140.69 million in general support and $2.5 million in rural education outreach funding represents a 5 percent increase over Pitt’s fiscal year 2014-15 general appropriation.

Partisan disagreements had left the state’s budget for the current fiscal year incomplete, putting the squeeze on school districts, social service agencies and other entities that rely on state funding, in addition to leaving budget gaps for the state-related universities, which receive funding through separate non-preferred appropriations.

Pitt’s state appropriation covers about 7 percent of the University’s $2.07 billion budget.

Gov. Tom Wolf allowed the budget measures to take effect March 28 without his signature, announcing last week that he would not veto the Republican majority’s fiscal year 2015-16 spending plan.

Since the July 1 start of the fiscal year, Wolf vetoed two prior budget proposals, then in December approved $23.4 billion of a $30.3 billion spending plan that he said lacked sufficient revenue.

Wolf maintained that the GOP’s most recent proposal likewise is unbalanced.

“I cannot in good conscience attach my name to a budget that simply does not add up, but to allow us to move on to face budget challenges of 2016-17, I am going to allow HB1801 to become law,” he said in a March 23 press conference.

“It means that schools will stay open through the end of this year, but unless Harrisburg changes its ways, they won’t have adequate funds for next year.

“It means that counties will have the money they need to make it through the rest of this fiscal year, but unless Harrisburg changes its ways, they won’t have enough for next year.

“It means that seniors will have the help they need in getting their prescriptions at affordable prices through the rest of this fiscal year, but unless Harrisburg changes its ways, they won’t be able to count on this for next year,” the governor said, calling on legislators to build a “responsible and balanced” 2016-17 budget.

In his March 23 report to Senate Council, just hours after the governor’s announcement, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher cautioned that a funding freeze could be on the horizon if state revenues prove insufficient.

“The governor is quite concerned that the funding level is not there to cover this,” Gallagher said. “That’s one of the reasons the governor didn’t sign (the budget package).

“He doesn’t believe it represents a balanced budget. He does believe he can manage any future shortfalls that should occur by imposing spending freezes in various line items.

“So, it’s still possible that as we proceed and our bill is enacted into law that there could be some adjustments made to that,” Gallagher said.

Still, the chancellor called the release of increased funding for Pitt ”a big positive step forward.”

“This means that a 5 percent increase becomes the starting point for next year’s discussions,” which are underway as the July 1 start to the 2016-17 fiscal year approaches.

The governor’s budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year would raise Pitt’s general appropriation to $150.35 million, still shy of Pitt’s requested $168 million in FY17 general support. (See Feb. 18 University Times.)

Gallagher thanked members of the community who contacted their legislators in support of state funding for the University. “It has made a big difference,” he said.

“I don’t think this would have happened without the vocal support of the Pitt community standing up over the past few weeks to really make the case that this University is a huge asset to the state of Pennsylvania,” said Gallagher.

He commented as well on the value of Pitt Day in Harrisburg. “I think it was a great day,” the chancellor said.

“I think it was really important for Pitt to be heard and for (legislators) to see we feel that our budget situation is important. There’s nothing worse than there being a crisis and lawmakers not hearing any consequences. That actually matters,” said Gallagher.

“Frankly, I think it was great for us too,” he said. “These are real people doing a job on behalf of the citizens of the state. Getting to know them and getting to hear from them what they’re struggling with, I think, is good for us as well.

“It helps us build ties between Harrisburg and the University that are deeper than just me or our government affairs operation,” Gallagher said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

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