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September 26, 2002

Pitt asks state for 5% hike in FY04

Pitt hopes to limit tuition increases to 5 percent next fall and increase its salary budget by at least 4 percent — if Pennsylvania lawmakers grant the University the $180.5 million state appropriation that it is requesting for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2003.

Pitt's administration is requesting 5 percent increases in state funding for each line item in its current appropriation. See chart on page 2. But the requested $180.5 million actually would be just 1 percent more than the appropriation that lawmakers approved for Pitt two years ago before imposing mid-year cuts.

The University's appropriation request for next year, submitted to the state Department of Education on Sept. 20, notes that Pitt's appropriation did not keep pace with inflation in FY 2002 (July 1, 2001, through June 30, 2002), increasing by only 0.6 percent.

"Moreover, during FY 2002, the University absorbed a 3 percent freeze of its previously approved appropriation," the document points out. "Those funds were not restored, and thus amounted to a $5.35 million mid-year reduction of the University's appropriation."

Pitt's appropriation for the current fiscal year is 3.7 percent (or $6.5 million) less than the prior year's approved appropriation — that is, before the mid-year reduction.

While Pitt recognizes that budgeting for the current fiscal year was "very difficult," the cut in state funding "imposed significant fiscal challenges, particularly because that reduction came on the heels of FY 2002's reduced appropriations," the appropriation request states.

"As a result, the University was forced to make some difficult decisions" last year, including raising tuition for in-state undergraduates by 14 percent to $7,868, the largest percentage hike here since 1978.

"We recognize the burden [that the tuition hike] imposes on students and families. However, Pitt's FY 2003 tuition increase ranks near the middle of the range of tuition increases approved by our peers, the public universities of the prestigious American Association of Universities.

"In addition, to help offset the impact of the tuition increase on our students, the University is increasing financial aid expenditures by $9 million."

In the 20-page "Chancellor's Statement" at the beginning of Pitt's appropriation request, Mark A. Nordenberg noted initiatives that the University has taken to cut costs and improve efficiency.

These have included: lowering capital costs, outsourcing (for example, hiring the professional management group SMG to operate the Petersen Events Center), implementing an Internet-based program that has streamlined purchasing-related expenses, and various energy-saving initiatives (lighting upgrades, motion sensors, energy-efficient fixtures) that saved Pitt nearly $475,000 in energy and utility costs.

Nordenberg also cited dozens of recent Pitt accomplishments in teaching, research, public service and fund raising.

Political and economic conditions in Harrisburg are even more unsettled than usual this year, said Charles F. McLaughlin, Pitt assistant director of Commonwealth Relations.

"We're going to have a new governor and an entirely new session of the legislature in 2003. I haven't heard either candidate for governor address higher education directly yet. Most of the education rhetoric has involved K-through-12," McLaughlin said.

"There are so many other issues that they're focusing on right now, like property taxes and how to balance the budget without raising taxes, and the funding of school districts."

State revenues reportedly are running slightly ahead of projections, but another $1 billion shortfall is expected this year, said McLaughlin.

One bright spot in Pitt's current fiscal year appropriation was that state lawmakers took a pair of one-time payments from the University's FY 2002 appropriation ($2.38 million for laboratories and equipment and another $2.38 million for information technology) and rolled them into Pitt's base budget for educational and general expenses this year.

Pitt had lobbied for the change, saying it would give the University more budgetary flexibility while ensuring continued state funding for upgrading labs, equipment and information technology — necessary spending items for a major research university.

"We were fortunate to get those one-time line items rolled up into the E&G budget, which gave us a higher base budget to start off with this year," McLaughlin said. "We won't be lobbying for another move like that this year, coming so soon on the heels of last year's."

McLaughlin said he and the University's other Harrisburg lobbyists plan to work closely again this year with the Pitt Alumni Legislative Network, which hosts an annual breakfast for lawmakers in addition to lobbying individual senators and representatives.

A new lobbying force this year is a Pennsylvania student association made up of students from state-related and -owned universities.

It's the brainchild of Pitt Student Government Board President Kevin Washo Jr., who said the association will strive "to protect the rights of students and make our education affordable again" through lobbying and voter registration drives among students.

University Senate President James Cassing called Pitt's appropriation request "quite reasonable."

"There's no hyperbole in it," the economics professor said. "We're not asking for the moon."

The administration's proposed salary pool increase, 4 percent, was the same as that recommended recently by the Senate's budget policies committee.

Staff Association Council President Barbara Mowery said: "Pennsylvanians value higher education, and I would encourage our legislators to provide us with a larger appropriation so that we can show our students, especially those from Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh area, that we care and we have something to offer here."

–Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 3

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