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October 15, 2009

Budget picture clearer for Pitt, but still no appropriation

Although the state budget signed Oct. 9 by Gov. Edward G. Rendell includes nearly $168 million for Pitt, University administrators aren’t betting on when Pitt’s budget will be finalized.

The state’s $27.8 billion fiscal year 2010 general fund budget includes more than $160.4 million in state funds and $7.5 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus money for the University as part of its education budget.

However, until a table games bill is passed, those numbers merely represent “expected” amounts, said state budget office spokesperson Susan Hooper. Pitt’s appropriation bill will be considered “after we get the bill for the table games,” Hooper said.

Before Pitt’s appropriation can be released, the legislature must pass a separate appropriation bill for Pitt. (As institutions not entirely under the state’s control, Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities receive their state funding through non-preferred appropriations that are approved in individual bills after the general fund budget is finalized.)

The medical school’s portion of state funding, which comes through the Department of Public Welfare, isn’t impacted by the lack of an appropriations bill. Paul A. Supowitz, vice chancellor for Governmental Relations, told the University Times he is awaiting the exact figures from the DPW, but expected that Pitt would receive an estimated $17.4 million in state and federal funding through the DPW budget.

Legislators now are pulling together the details for a plan to bring table games to Pennsylvania’s casinos, a move that is expected to bring $200 million in taxes and fees to the state coffers. Separate bills are under consideration in the House and Senate. Supowitz clarified that table games will not be a revenue source for the University, but rather “just one small piece of the revenue picture” for the state’s budget.

While the University is not directly getting involved in the table games issue, Supowitz said, Pitt officials are stressing to legislators the urgency of resolving the table games matter. “It’s the final piece of the whole revenue picture for the Commonwealth,” Supowitz said.

The University’s appropriation bill, which matches the general fund’s total of $168 million in support for Pitt, is one House vote away from going to the governor for approval. But, until that appropriation bill is passed, the state has no authority to release the monthly increment of $15 million – $16 million Pitt typically receives from the state, leaving the University to cover the gap as the months roll on.

“We’re trying to be patient, but we’re concerned after the lengthy delays,” Supowitz said, noting that Pitt did not receive its state funding in July, August, September or October.

The lack of an FY10 appropriation also is preventing the University from completing its budget request for FY11, which begins July 1, 2010. Typically the request is due to the state Department of Education in late September, but without finalized current fiscal year budget figures, next year’s request can’t be completed.

That deadline has been pushed back until Nov. 12. If  Pitt’s appropriation is not approved by then, it is likely Pitt simply will use the tentative numbers, Supowitz said.

The FY10 state budget continues the trend of eroding state support, not quite restoring Pitt’s funding to the $170.73 million approved for FY09 by legislators in July 2008. The expected $168 million for FY10 doesn’t quite make up for last year’s 6 percent cuts enacted by the governor in the face of lagging state revenues. (See Jan. 8 University Times.)

Rendell cut Pitt’s FY09 $170.73 million appropriation to about $160.5 million and kept flat Pitt’s appropriation for FY10 in his budget proposal last February.

The new budget does give last year’s appropriation a boost in the form of $8.644 million in federal ARRA stimulus money, which brings Pennsylvania’s support for Pitt in FY09 to $169.13 million — still not quite the $170.73 million the legislators intended.

But Supowitz was pleased to see ARRA money budgeted for Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln, given the stir Rendell caused by excluding the state-related universities from Pennsylvania’s June application for federal stimulus funding. (See July 9 University Times.)

“I feel much better about that,” Supowitz said.

In a related matter, Rendell approved a bill, which, in part, expands the state’s transfer and articulation system that enables students to transfer credits when they switch from one college to another. Pitt, Penn State and Temple will come under a statewide articulation system that already includes Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges and 14 State System of Higher Education schools, along with voluntary members Lincoln University, Lackawanna College, Seton Hill University and St. Francis University.

By June 15, 2010, Pitt, Penn State and Temple will need to identify 30 credit hours of course work that they will accept from transfer students from those other institutions and make the information available for posting on the Department of Education’s credit transfer web site,

In a prepared statement, Rendell said, “Families and college students lose out when they have to take extra credits — and pay extra tuition — as a result of transferring to a new university. Pennsylvania’s higher education institutions are working together to eliminate this ‘transfer tax,’ and I am grateful for their leadership as well as to the legislators who championed the reform.”

Noting that Pitt has a number of articulation agreements already in place, Supowitz said, “It may make that information more easy to access, but it’s not a big change for the University.”

A list of Pitt articulation agreements can be found at

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 42 Issue 4

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