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June 23, 2011

Smaller appropriation cuts proposed in Harrisburg

As state budget discussions continue in Harrisburg, legislation awaiting final approval in the state Senate would cut Pitt’s general appropriation by 15 percent.

Although the $142.8 million proposal represents the Senate’s goal for restoring some of the 50 percent cut Gov. Tom Corbett proposed for Pitt, Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Governmental Relations, cautioned that the budget debate is still in progress.

“It’s not all that clear that will be the final number,” he said.

The Senate bill’s proposed $25 million cut is significantly less severe than Corbett’s initial plan to halve the appropriation for Pitt and its fellow state-related universities, but significant nevertheless.

John Fedele, Pitt associate director of News, said, “Pitt is still working with legislators in hopes that the percent reduction in the appropriation for the state-related universities will be no greater than that assigned to the Commonwealth System universities.” The House budget bill would cut funding for the 14 State System of Higher Education schools by 15 percent. Corbett’s proposal had slated the schools for cuts of more than 50 percent.

Senate Bill 1123 would restore to Pitt some $62.5 million of Corbett’s proposed cuts. If approved, it would provide nearly $142.8 million ($140.6 million for general support and nearly $2.2 million for rural education outreach) for Pitt in fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1.

Excluding funding for the medical school, Pitt’s current fiscal year appropriation includes $160.49 million in state money plus $7.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for a total of nearly $168 million.

Corbett’s FY12 budget proposal would have reduced Pitt’s general appropriation to $80.25 million. In addition, the end of the federal stimulus program cuts $7.5 million in the coming fiscal year and Corbett’s proposal also would have eliminated $17 million in current funding for the School of Medicine, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Pitt’s dental clinic and the Center for Public Health Practice.

The medical line items, which are budgeted separately from Pitt’s appropriation as part of the Department of Public Welfare budget, also stand to be restored in part.

Supowitz estimated that approximately half of the proposed $17 million in cuts could be restored, adding that the University has “continued to push,” stressing again that the state budget has not been finalized.

Another pay freeze looming?

The potential impact a 15 percent cut could have on Pitt employees remains unclear. Fedele told the University Times, “It is not productive to attempt to predict the specific impact of a funding level while the legislative process is still playing out.”

Following cuts of 6 percent from its state appropriation in 2009, the University implemented a salary freeze for FY10.

Pitt’s state appropriation was held flat for FY11, but University trustees last July approved a 3 percent salary pool increase for the current fiscal year.

The University Planning and Budgeting Committee (UPBC) each year develops a budget recommendation — including recommendations regarding the salary pool — to present to the chancellor, who then submits budget proposals to the Board of Trustees for action.

UPBC’s parameters subcommittee reportedly was assuming a FY12 salary freeze as a given during early budget deliberations. However, no freeze has been announced. Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, in a press conference following Corbett’s budget proposal in March, said only that “everything’s on the table” as the University responds to further declines in state support.

Other schools were more specific. Penn State President Graham Spanier announced a pay freeze for the coming fiscal year; Ann Weaver Hart, president of Temple, followed suit with a similar announcement in April.

Pitt’s annual operating budget traditionally is not set until after the University’s state appropriation has been approved in Harrisburg. While optimism remains that legislators will complete a budget deal before the July 1 start of the fiscal year, Pitt’s appropriation will not be finalized in time for the Board of Trustees to approve an FY12 budget at its June 24 meeting.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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