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February 19, 2004

Could more state money be in Pitt’s future?

Pitt alumnus Bernard Mack (left) and current senior Jill Albrecht met Feb. 10 with state Rep. David K. Levdansky (D-Allegheny Co.) during the 9th annual Alumni Legislative Network lobbying day.

Pitt alumnus Bernard Mack (left) and current senior Jill Albrecht met Feb. 10 with state Rep. David K. Levdansky (D-Allegheny Co.) during the 9th annual Alumni Legislative Network lobbying day.

Through the first half of Pennsylvania’s current fiscal year (which began on July 1), state revenues were running $458 million ahead of forecast.

If that trend continues, it could mean a larger state appropriation for the University next year than the 2.25 percent increase proposed recently by Gov. Ed Rendell, a Pitt lobbyist said last week.

Paul A. Supowitz, Pitt associate vice chancellor for Commonwealth and City/County Relations, told the University Senate’s budget policies committee (SBPC) Feb. 13: “It’s very early in the process, but we certainly got the sense [during recent discussions with Harrisburg officials] that if revenue collections continue to do as well or better than they have in the first part of the year, then there should be some more money there to go after.

“I don’t know that it will be a lot, but our feeling is that we may have an opportunity to move up from that 2.25 percent” that the governor recommended for Pitt.

April is the key month for assessing the state’s financial health because that’s when state income tax revenues pour in. “By the time they have the April numbers, we’ll have a better idea of what our funding opportunities will be,” Supowitz said.

In the FY 2004-05 budget plan that Rendell unveiled Feb. 2, he recommended a 2.5 percent increase in Pitt’s funding for educational and general (E&G) expenses but flat funding for eight line items — Pitt medical programs, dental clinics and recruitment of disadvantaged students, among others — that state lawmakers normally increase by the same percentage as the E&G budget.

A 2.5 percent hike in Pitt’s E&G line (which currently accounts for $145.6 million of the University’s total $163.4 million appropriation) combined with no increases for the other Pitt line items would work out to an overall 2.25 percent increase.

By putting all of Pitt’s extra funding in the E&G line, Harrisburg would be giving the University maximum flexibility in budgeting. Pitt could take money from the E&G line and spread it around the eight lines that Rendell didn’t target for increases.

“Our understanding,” Supowitz told SBPC, “is that the governor essentially was telling Pitt and the other state-related universities: ‘We can’t do a whole lot this year to reverse the funding cuts of recent years, but at least we’ll give you as much freedom as possible in determining where those dollars should be allocated.’”

Supowitz predicted that Pennsylvania lawmakers will pass an FY 2004-05 budget by the June 30 deadline — in contrast to last year’s budget-making process, which dragged on into December for a variety of reasons, mainly political.

“Nobody liked what happened last year,” Supowitz said. Another factor is that this is an election year, he added: State legislators up for re-election in late April won’t want to campaign in their home districts under the cloud of a probable late budget for the second straight year.

Harrisburg also has awarded Pitt $20 million in each of the last five years for construction projects, renovations and other upgrades at the University’s five campuses. These capital funds are separate from Pitt’s annual appropriation.

“I’m not exactly sure when the state will pass a capital budget this year,” Supowitz told SBPC. “Hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later. We have a number of projects that Facilities Management is anxious to move on and that will require passage of the capital budget.”

Rendell seems likely to continue the policy, set by his predecessor Tom Ridge, of committing to provide a set amount of capital funding to Pitt each year for a specified number of years, according to Supowitz.

“The indication we’ve gotten from the governor’s office is that they plan to continue that arrangement of having an even level of funding every year” — although the governor’s office hasn’t committed to a dollar amount yet, Supowitz said.

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg will plead Pitt’s case for more state funds during hearings of the state House and Senate appropriations committees Feb. 25.

—Bruce Steele

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