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May 13, 1999

Senate approves 5.9% hike in appropriation; bill goes back to House

Senate approves 5.9% hike in appropriation; bill goes back to House

The state Senate voted 49-0 Tuesday night to increase Pitt's state funding appropriation by 5.9 percent to $167.5 million next year — a larger percentage increase than it recomm ended for any other Pennsylvania college or university.

The state House of Representatives had earlier approved a $162.2 million appropriation for Pitt, the same amount that Gov. Ridge recommended in February.

Because Pitt's funding bill originated in the House, the Senate sent its amended version back to that body for its concurrence.

But the House adjourned Tuesday night for the Legislature's elections recess without taking action on Pitt's bill. The House won't reconvene until June 7.

Senators voted for Pitt funding hikes that exceed the House's recommendations in three areas: * The Senate is recommending that Pitt receive $4.5 million for laboratory improvements and equipment. The House version of the bill included no funds for that purpose.

* Educational and general expenses. The Senate is recommending $145 million for Pitt's E&G line item. The House recommended $144.3 million.

* Rural education outreach activities at Pitt's Bradford campus. The House recommended $538,000. The Senate upped that to $703,000.

Last week, the Legislature approved — and Gov. Ridge signed into law — a $19 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget includes a 4 percent hike in funding for the 14 state-owned universities of the State System of Higher E ducation and a 3 percent increase for community colleges.

Because Pitt is a state-related university, its Commonwealth appropriation (like those of Penn State, Temple and Lincoln) is considered as a separate funding bill. It's not part of the basic state budget.

Unlike state-owned universities, the four state-related schools receive substantial Commonwealth funding but function much like private institutions.

While recommending a 5.9 percent funding increase for Pitt, the Senate endorsed increases of 5 percent for Penn State and 3 percent for Lincoln.

Temple's funding bill is on hold while lawmakers study last year's merger between Temple and the Pennsylvania College of Podiatric Medicine. The latter used to get a separate funding allocation from the state.

From late April until this week, Pitt's appropriation likewise was held up in the Senate appropriations committee while Sen. John Wozniak, D-Johnstown, looked into allegations by Pitt Johnstown campus faculty that UPJ does not get its fair share of Univer sity funds.

Following a series of negotiations with Pitt officials, including Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, Wozniak ended his delay of Pitt's funding bill.

"I've been encouraged by my talks with Mark and others that a new era of communication has begun between the Johnstown and Pittsburgh campuses," said Wozniak, who is a UPJ alumnus. "I saw no reason to hold up the appropriation any longer."

Pitt administrators recently agreed to assist UPJ with debt payments and to wire Johnstown campus dorms for the Internet. Meanwhile, UPJ has begun work on a long-range plan and a review of its curriculum, two projects that Pittsburgh campus administrators have been pushing them for years to undertake.

"But probably the most important thing that's happened is intangible," Wozniak said. "The iron curtain is gone. Some of these differences [between Pittsburgh and Johnstown] are not going to be resolved in a month or two, but now the two sides are talking to each other honestly and fairly."

Chancellor Nordenberg told Senate Council this week that his talks with Wozniak were "constructive."

"The same could be said," Nordenberg continued, "of the conversations Jim [Maher, Pitt provost] and I and others have had with other members of the legislative delegation from that region, as well as members of the Johnstown community, including those who serve on the UPJ advisory board."

The chancellor said he and Maher share "a high regard" for UPJ. "At the same time, we are not making investments in any academic units that are not justified by planning and performance," Nordenberg told Senate Council. To do otherwise would violate Pitt' s planning and budgeting system, he said.

— Bruce Steele

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