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November 12, 2009

State appropriation still in limbo

As fiscal year 2010 moves into its second quarter, the University’s state appropriation remains in limbo while legislators continue to wrangle over a gaming bill designed to fill the state’s budget gap.

In spite of ongoing assurances from Harrisburg that an agreement is near, a total of $730 million in “non-preferred” appropriations for 28 educational and cultural organizations — including Pitt — has yet to be released pending agreement on details of a plan to allow casino table games in Pennsylvania.

The state Senate approved Pitt’s appropriation bill (SB 1036) Oct. 5, but that legislation now is on hold in the House appropriations committee. The bill proposes $168 million ($160.49 million in state money and nearly $7.7 million in federal stimulus funding for education) for the University for the fiscal year that began July 1.

The University’s appropriation is received in monthly wire transfers of approximately $15 million, which have yet to begin for this fiscal year. Consequently, the University must cover the gap.

“Every day of delay costs money,” said Vice Chancellor for Governmental Relations Paul A. Supowitz. Because interest rates are low, the impact isn’t extreme, “but it’s a cost nonetheless,” said Supowitz. “The uncertainty is the biggest problem.”

The continuing state delay has kept Pitt trustees from enacting a University budget for lack of a firm state appropriation. It also has hindered Pitt in its annual request for the coming fiscal year’s appropriation. Typically the budget request is in the hands of the state Department of Education in late September, but the lack of FY10 budget numbers prompted the education department to push back the deadline to today, Nov. 12.

Supowitz said Pitt’s FY11  budget request would be submitted on time today.

The continued delay in the release of state funding for Pitt again has prompted a call to grassroots action. Faculty, staff, students and alumni were encouraged last June and again in late October to contact their legislators to urge them to release the funding.

Pitt’s Governmental Relations office has posted legislators’ contact information and a sample letter online at as part of a call to action aimed at Pitt supporters.

Supowitz, who was in Harrisburg earlier this week to speak with local legislators and legislative leaders, said the grassroots effort is being heard. “The legislators are hearing from our alumni, students and others. They’ve let us know they’ve received those letters and emails.”

Legislators continue to say an agreement is near, Supowitz said.

Stagnant levels of state support have been a sore spot with administrators in recent years, but the continuing delay in the release of the current fiscal year’s appropriation drew additional criticism from Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg.

In comments during the Oct. 30 meeting of Pitt’s Board of Trustees, Nordenberg said, “With four months into the fiscal year without an appropriation, one might say we’ve reached a point where it’s just not clear if Pennsylvania has a functioning appropriation process.”

He told the trustees, “It has been said that the Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln appropriations all are being held up because we are ‘non-preferred’ appropriations. In the legal sense, we are non-preferred, which typically means that when your bill comes to a vote, you need more votes to get it passed; it does not typically mean that your bill will not be brought to a vote.”

The chancellor continued:  “Legislation authorizing support for the group of universities that enrolls the largest number of Pennsylvania students in programs of higher education, and that attract research funding far in excess of those appropriations and that are among the most powerful engines for regional economic development in the commonwealth — that legislation is being held up because competing caucuses cannot come to agreement about the fees and taxes to be paid by the table games industry.

“When anyone involved in the process says Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln have their funding on hold because they’re not preferred, what they also are saying in the most practical sense is that our 161,000 students, including 122,000 of the brightest, highest-achieving Pennsylvania students, students who have opted to stay in the commonwealth for their education, which means they’re even more likely to stay in the commonwealth and contribute after receiving their education, it’s saying that those 122,000 students are not preferred.

“And in a time when preserving jobs seems to be the biggest challenge in the economy, saying that Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln are not preferred also is saying practically speaking that the 50,000 employees of those universities are not preferred in the funding process. And it’s also saying that our roughly 1 million alumni, most of whom reside within the commonwealth, and most of whom care about their university and the work that it does, are not preferred.

“And it’s saying that the roughly 30 communities in which we have campuses or other key facilities that do help drive local economies are not preferred.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow  and Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 42 Issue 6

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