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June 25, 2015

Pitt budget on hold pending state action

The University’s budget for fiscal year 2016 — including salary pool and tuition rates — remains on hold pending agreement on a state general fund budget in Harrisburg.

Although funding for higher education is one area in which there’s more agreement now than under previous administrations, a lack of progress between the Republican-majority General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on key issues, including state employee pension system reforms, liquor sales reforms and a Marcellus shale tax, has University leaders preparing for a wait, despite a June 30 state budget deadline.

Given the slow pace, “it’s likely to be protracted,” predicted Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations.

The University’s budget is not finalized until Pitt’s state appropriation is announced. And the state appropriation isn’t set until there’s a state budget agreement.

Because Pitt and its fellow state-related schools are not under complete state control, the bulk of their state funding support is provided through non-preferred appropriations. (Pitt’s medical school funding comes through the Department of Human Services as part of the general fund budget.)

Non-preferred appropriation bills are voted on separately after a state general fund budget is passed. The bills require a two-thirds majority for approval.

No fewer than four funding bills for Pitt have been positioned in House and Senate appropriations committees for action: House Bill 1127 and Senate Bill 822 would provide Pitt $148.91 million in general support and $2.3 million in rural education outreach, mirroring the governor’s proposed 11 percent increase for the University. (See March 5 University Times.)

House Bill 1386 and Senate Bill 915, however, propose holding Pitt’s funding flat at $136.29 million ($134 million in general support and $2.3 million for rural education outreach.)

Supowitz stressed that the proposed funding amounts historically have been prone to change and that the University’s appropriation for the coming year might well be set somewhere in between the current $136.29 million and the governor’s proposed $151.21 million.

—Kimberly K. Barlow