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July 12, 2007

Late state budget delays Pitt FY08 budget

While a state budget awaits a vote by legislators, Pitt trustees also are waiting to approve the University’s fiscal 2008 budget, including tuition and compensation pool increases.

The trustees’ budget and executive committees are scheduled to meet July 13, but it remained uncertain as the University Times went to press Wednesday whether votes would be taken on Pitt’s operating and capital budgets.

Pitt’s appropriation from the state makes up almost 11 percent of the University’s budget. For fiscal year 2007, Pitt’s appropriation was just over $164.6 million, part of the University’s operating budget of $1.55 billion.

“We don’t want to approve a budget in advance of the commonwealth approving their budget,” said Arthur G. Ramicone, vice chancellor for Budget and Controller.

Had the state budget been approved prior to the trustees’ June 29 meeting, the University budget could have been presented to the full board. Instead, Pitt’s budget will be approved by the executive committee, which is authorized to act on the board’s behalf.

The last time the legislature approved a budget prior to the June 30 end of the fiscal year was in 2002, when a deal was signed on June 28. In 2003, an impasse delayed approval until Dec. 22. Since then, the deadline has been missed by only a matter of days.

This was the first year that state workers were furloughed on account of the delay. More than 23,000 state employees considered non-critical were told not to report to work Monday, a move Gov. Edward G. Rendell credited in getting legislators to iron out an agreement. Workers were back on the job on Tuesday.

Although Rendell announced late Monday that a budget deal had been reached, the details still are being hammered out. Legislators are not expected to vote on the $27.369 billion plan before the weekend, leaving the University unsure of its appropriation.

“What we’re waiting for is definite word from Harrisburg on what our part of that is,” Ramicone said.

Paul Supowitz, Pitt’s vice chancellor for governmental relations, said he was unsure whether those numbers would arrive in time for Friday’s meetings.

Ramicone said the trustees budget committee has based its budget projections on the state figures it had to work with — roughly a 2 percent increase in state funding for the state-related universities that Rendell included in his February budget proposal.

Waiting for word on the amount of the University’s state appropriation involves more than just an agreement by legislators on the state budget.

Once a general appropriation bill is passed, the state legislature also must pass separate bills for non-preferred appropriations that are not directly related to state operations — among them funding for the state-related universities, including Pitt.

Those bills typically follow closely on the heels of the budget bill when the legislature takes action, Supowitz said.

The appropriation is expected to fall short of what Pitt wants. In its annual request last September, Pitt asked the commonwealth for an 8.5 percent increase, seeking $198.54 million, including nearly $174.8 million in education and general expenses (E&G) funding for fiscal year 2008.

The state Senate on June 19 passed a bill giving Pitt $167.86 million, including $164.3 million for E&G, $435,000 for student life initiatives, $442,000 for recruitment and retention of disadvantaged students, $523,000 for the teen suicide center at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and nearly $2.16 million for rural education outreach. That total would represent slightly less than a 2 percent increase over last year’s appropriation. The bill is awaiting House action.

As part of the budget agreement hammered out in Harrisburg, the Jonas Salk Legacy Fund plan was addressed. The plan, which would leverage a portion of the state’s tobacco settlement funding, would earmark $500 million in matching funds to provide grants for bioscience research and facilities.

“We have reached an agreement that there will be a vote before Nov. 1 in the Senate,” Rendell said, adding that the measure already has been passed in the House of Representatives.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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