By SUSAN JONES
Despite a small hiccup toward the end, the state budget process went about as smoothly as it could for Pitt this year, according to Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed the 2019-20 budget on June 28, just before the June 30 deadline. It includes a 2 percent funding increase for Pitt and the three other state-related universities — Penn State, Temple and Lincoln Universities.
In its budget request submitted last September, Pitt had asked for a 6.5 percent increase, but Supowitz said they knew that was unlikely.
“I think this is where we had hoped to be. A 2 or 3 percent increase was probably the most that we could have realistically wished for,” Supowitz said. “We try to make a realistic request based on our needs — less based on trying to predict where the economy and everything else will be in nine months when we actually have a budget.”
This is the sixth year in a row that the state appropriation for Pitt has increased, but Supowitz said the University is still not up to the funding levels it received before the 2008 recession and the drastic cuts during the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett from 2011-15.
BRADFORD GETS BOOST
The Pennsylvania budget also included an increase of $500,000 for Rural Education Outreach that supports the Bradford campus.
Pitt–Bradford officials told the Bradford Era that the money will be used toward new engineering technology programs.
“These additional funds will help us to further develop new engineering technology programs by supporting the recruitment of additional faculty and the purchase of specialized equipment,” Catherine Koverola, Pitt-Bradford’s new president, told the Bradford Era. “These funds will also enable us to re-equip all of the labs for our growing computer information systems and technology program.”
“I think we’re somewhere around 2002 or 2003 funding levels,” he said. “But at least we've reversed the trend and that’s been big. And we really do owe appreciation to the legislators that have supported us and Governor Wolf as well.”
Wolf’s February budget proposal included no increases for the state-related universities. But, as Supowitz said, that was without information that the legislature had last month of the stronger than expected state revenues.
“(The budget process) was made a lot easier because the state had a surplus of revenue beyond what they had predicted would come in,” Supowitz said.
“The biggest thing is to watch where the economy goes in the first part of the first half of the year and is this going to be a trend in Pennsylvania?” he said. “Or is this just kind of a blip on the radar?”
And what about that last-minute hiccup? Some Republican members of the state House wanted language inserted into Pitt’s funding bill that would prevent state money from being used for research involving fetal tissue. A 2012 research study at Pitt that used donated fetal tissue was cited by the Republican lawmakers, even though the study was funded through a grant from UPMC and the Italian Ministry for Innovation and Technologies.
Supowitz said this really was a non-issue, because the state funding Pitt receives has always been used to reduce tuition for in-state students. In fact, he said, the appropriated money — $151.5 million — does not cover the discount to Pennsylvania students, which costs more than $200 million.
Pitt objected to restrictive language being included in the bill that would have said what the University could not use the money for. Instead, the lawmakers approved an addition to the bill that clarifies how Pitt does use its state appropriation.
The bill states: “Funds appropriated by this act shall only be used for costs directly related to the provision of instruction for graduate and undergraduate students and costs incurred in providing student-related services and community outreach services, consistent with the existing laws of the commonwealth.”
Money from the state makes up 7 percent of Pitt’s total budget and 14 percent when research funding is removed from the equation.
In March, state Reps. Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery) and James R. Roebuck Jr. (D-Philadelphia) introduced legislation to create a higher education funding commission that would explore ways to improve access to higher education and job training in Pennsylvania. That bill was referred to the Education Committee for review.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-648-4294.