Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

October 14, 2004

Pitt Asks State for 10.6% Hike

Pitt is requesting a 10.6 percent increase in its commonwealth appropriations for fiscal year 2006, which begins July 1. If approved, the $186.7 million request, filed with the state government late last month, would restore the University’s level to the high-water mark of FY 2002, adjusted for inflation.

“This year we got the first increase in four years,” said Paul Supowitz, a community and governmental relations lobbyist for Pitt. “We ended up with a 3.29 percent increase [over FY04’s appropriations], or a total of $168.5 million.”

That fell well short of the 12.9 percent Pitt was requesting, but somewhat higher than the 2.5 percent that Gov. Ed Rendell proposed in his annual budget message, Supowitz pointed out.

In asking to be restored to FY 2002 levels, Pitt is employing a rationale similar to last year’s, Supowitz told the Senate budget policies committee (BPC) Oct. 8. “We know an overall 10 percent increase is typically a larger increase than we see, but the feeling was we ought to be asking for what we feel our real needs are.”

Pitt is asking for $166 million in educational and general funding (a 10.4 percent increase). Other line item requests vary between 10.3 percent and 12.5 percent, Supowitz said.

If Pitt’s request is granted in full, the University expects to hold tuition increases to 4 percent (not counting the $1,000 differential tuition rate surcharge for undergrads beginning their studies here in fall 2003 or later), and would increase the employee compensation pool by at least 4 percent, Pitt’s request stated.

One factor affecting this year’s budget decisions, Supowitz predicted, is that the state will not receive some $200 million from the federal government for Medicare funding that it has received the last two years, “and that’s a hole the legislators are going to have to fill. So they are already posturing about how short the dollars are. At the same time, there are some indications that the governor’s office is looking at higher education more closely, and we’ve heard that the state revenue collection is ahead of the predicted pace, which is a good sign.”

BPC committee members suggested that Pitt’s administration does a poor job making the case strongly enough that the percentage of Pitt’s budget coming from commonwealth appropriations continues to decline, while the corresponding reliance on tuition revenue continues to climb by a similar percentage.

When Pitt became a state-related institution in 1966, commonwealth appropriations represented more than 30 percent of the University’s budget. That figure is now under 12 percent. Even with the 3.29 percent increase in this year’s budget, Pitt’s appropriation lags by more than $9 million below FY 2001 funding, something the University’s budget requests points out.

Supowitz replied, “If you look at the communications that the chancellor writes, whether it’s the annual report or any of a number of publications that come out, the argument is there. And we certainly include it in the appropriation request that goes to the Department of Education, and in March, we condense [our analysis] and package it and it goes to every member of the legislature.”

According to Robert Pack, who is the Provost’s office liaison to BPC, “We’ve seen essentially a reversal in the percentages that come from tuition as opposed to the commonwealth appropriation. We used to get about twice as much in appropriation as tuition, and now we’re getting about twice as much in tuition as appropriation. That’s been the dynamic.”

According to Art Ramicone, Pitt’s controller, the 12 percent figure has to be examined in light of Pitt’s research dollars. In round numbers, Ramicone said, “the E&G is $160 million, tuition is $320 million, research is $570 million, and we you add in the auxiliary and restricted accounts and the like the total comes to about $1.2 billion or so.”

Pack added, “Obviously the research revenue grows the budget, but it doesn’t really have any impact on the narrower instructional part of it that is fed by tuition and the appropriation.”

But BPC member Sean Hughes commented, “We’re doing a poor job with the state if we can’t convince the legislators that the amount of research revenue we generate is significant not only to higher education but to the whole regional economy.”

“The last time I mentioned this 12 percent thing in a presentation [to legislators], the one factor has been the research revenue,” Pack replied. “The research revenue to legislators is irrelevant They don’t care whether we get it or we don’t get it. They look at how much money they’re giving us.”

Supowitz also was asked about the potential effect on the legislators of Pitt’s recent decision to grant employee domestic partner health insurance benefits.

“Anecdotally, we’ve heard things on both sides of the issue,” Supowitz said. “We’ve heard some concerns from rural legislators; some legislators who don’t necessarily personally agree with the decision, still see the competitive argument that the University is at a disadvantage [without these benefits],” Supowitz said.

He added that the issue will pop up as the budget process moves along. “I think we will see the issue come up particularly at two points. One is after the election. Rep. Jerry Birmelin (R.-Wayne Co.), has proposed certain amendments on the issue of marriage and defining marriage. He has also drafted literally thousands of amendments along the same lines: some dealt with benefits, some with what state agencies or state-affiliated entities could and couldn’t offer. That was all tabled until Nov. 8,” Supowitz said.

“Second, during the budget process, when the chancellor meets with the appropriations committees during the budget hearings with both the House and Senate, legislators likely will raise the issue,” he said.

As to the cost of the benefit itself, Supowitz said, the cost is as yet unknown. “My understanding is that, historically, when institutions or businesses or corporations offer these benefits, the larger cost [supports] opposite sex domestic partners,” Supowitz continued. “But what we are telling legislators is that the cost to offer these benefits is not significant enough to have to use commonwealth-appropriated dollars.”

In other BPC developments:

* Committee members expressed annoyance that a report they requested two years ago on Pitt’s athletics budget has yet to be supplied. Ramicone pointed out that the delay was due in part to the federal government, as well as the NCAA, dropping the report as a requirement.

“If we’re not required to do a report, it gets put on the shelf,” Ramicone said.

Still, committee members pressed for the report at a future meeting, but at least prior to the March Senate plenary session, which will focus on the role of athletics.

* Pack, vice provost for Academic Planning and Resources Management, said he would report at a future BPC meeting on the status of the University’s current 10-year master facilities plan, as well as on the work of a committee that is preparing a new facilities plan.

-Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 4

Leave a Reply