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March 20, 1997

Earlier than usual okay of state budget & appropriation expected

Will Republican Gov. Tom Ridge and the Republican-dominated General Assembly agree on a 1997-98 budget in record time? The state's fiscal year (like Pitt's) begins July 1, although budget negotiations have been known to drag on into the autumn. This year, though, Harrisburg observers are predicting that the legislature will approve Ridge's uncontroversial, a-little-something-for-everyone budget proposal with few changes.

"Some people are saying we'll have a budget approved before the end of April, but I personally think that's highly unlikely," Pitt Commonwealth Relations director Ann Dykstra told the University Senate budget policies committee March 14. "The end of May might be a possibility, though." That would give University administrators more time than usual to draft a Pitt budget for the Board of Trustees to consider at its annual meeting, scheduled for June 26. In some previous years, budget delays in Harrisburg have forced Pitt trustees to hold special meetings later in the summer or fall to approve a University budget.

The longer Pitt's budget process drags on, the longer the University community remains in the dark about fall tuition hikes and fiscal year salary raises.

The state appropriation provides 18 percent of Pitt's operating funds. For next year, Ridge has proposed increasing the Pitt appropriation by 2 percent, or $2.97 million, to $151.5 million. The University has asked for $163.43 million, which would be 8.9 percent over its current state funding.

The state government is projected to finish the current fiscal year with a budget surplus of $260 million. If there is a surplus, will Pitt get any of that money? "Again, it's too soon to tell," Dykstra said. But at recent hearings of the House and Senate appropriations committees, legislators expressed greater interest in Pitt high tech projects and deferred maintenance problems than in the past, she noted.

The University has requested funding for four new budget line items this year: $2 million for deferred maintenance, $1.75 million for laboratory modernization, $1.25 million for initiatives to improve student life, and $885,000 for continued work on a distance education network. Ridge's proposed budget does not include funding for those line items, but that could change if the projected budget surplus becomes a reality, according to Dykstra.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg told Senate Council this week that Pitt administrators, faculty, staff, students and alumni will continue to lobby for a higher-than-2 percent funding increase from the state.

Nordenberg said Pitt's new line item requests are "appropriate" and were intended partly to draw legislators' attention to the special needs of research universities.

— Bruce Steele

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