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February 17, 2000

Governor proposes 2.5% hike for Pitt

HARRISBURG — Pitt would receive a 2.5 percent increase in its state appropriation under a 2000-2001 budget proposed last week by Gov. Ridge.

That's nearly $5.5 million less than the University requested.

Pitt wants state lawmakers to increase its current $167.6 million appropriation by 5.8 percent. The University's request includes funding for three new line items: $2.5 million for a second phase of laboratory improvements and equipment, $2.5 million for upgrading Pitt's information technology network, and $1 million for initiatives aimed at ensuring that Pitt graduates have the skills they will need to compete in the 21st century economy.

Gov. Ridge did not propose funding any of those new line items.

For a comparison of Pitt's appropriation request and Ridge's proposal, see page 6.

Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said funding for Pennsylvania's state-related universities "lags well behind that of other states with which Pennsylvania is in direct competition." The Maryland and New York legislatures are considering increasing funding for public higher education in those states by 12 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively, he said.

The chancellor and other Pitt senior administrators pleaded the University's case for additional funds at a Feb. 15 hearing of the state Senate appropriations committee. They also will testify at a March 1 hearing of the House appropriations committee.

"Beyond that," Nordenberg said, "we will be in regular contact with all of those who we think are in a position to influence the budget."

In recent years, Penn-sylvania's General Assembly and the governor's office have ended up compromising on budgets that included more money for higher education than the governor initially had recommended.

Last year, for example, Ridge similarly proposed a 2.5 percent increase for Pitt and the other three state-related schools (Penn State, Temple and Lincoln). But in the final budget, Pitt's appropriation was upped to 5.9 percent. It included $4.5 million for lab improvements and equipment — a new line item that did not appear in Ridge's proposal.

Pitt's budget request for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is based on 4 percent increases in student tuition and the pool of salary money for faculty and staff. Asked how tuition and pay raises might be affected if Pitt doesn't get the full 5.8 percent appropriation increase it's seeking, Nordenberg said: "If we don't achieve the level of funding that we've requested from the commonwealth, then we will be back trying to determine how to strike the right balance in terms of both tuition and salary increase levels, though maintaining some reasonable control on tuition is a priority and so is trying to find the resources to provide a meaningful salary increase."

Ann Dykstra, Pitt director of Commonwealth Relations, said her best guess is that the governor and the General Assembly will approve next year's budget by mid-May.

"The last several years, it's been very clear that there has been an inclination on the part of the General Assembly to simply get this thing through as quickly as possible," Dykstra said. "This year, it's not so obvious."

— Bruce Steele

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