Pitt funding stays the same as last year in House-passed bill


On May 26, the state House passed a supplemental appropriation that maintains the same funding levels to Pitt as last year, and Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, expects the Senate and the governor to quickly approve the appropriation and the full budget package.

The Pitt funding bill passed 198-4, while the full budget, which has no new taxes and maintains current spending levels, was passed 103-99 by the House on Tuesday.

“Unless something pops up unexpected, it should flow through and pass the Senate, by this weekend is what we're hearing,” he said. If so, it will be the earliest the state has approved a budget since Supowitz came to Pitt in 2013.

“Normally, we're just getting into serious budget negotiations, and they try to finalize things by the end of June in a normal year. This is obviously far from that,” he said. He suspects lawmakers want to complete the budget so they can return to their districts next week for the primary election, which was delayed until June 2 because of the pandemic.

The budget includes $151.5 million in general support for Pitt and $3.3 million for rural education outreach. In documents submitted in the fall, Pitt requested a state funding increase of 5.5 percent. Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal released in January had no increase for the state-related universities. Pitt’s funding from the state has increased each of the past six years.

While many items in the proposed budget are only funded through Nov. 30, the supplemental appropriation for Pitt, which comes through the Department of Education, is for the full 12 months starting July 1, 2020. The state will have to revisit other parts of the budget later in the year when the losses sustained during the pandemic are more clear. The state has projected revenue losses of $4 billion.

Still to be decided is what Pitt will receive in capital improvement funds. Wolf’s initial budget proposal listed six renovations projects on the Oakland campus — phase 2 and 3 of Hillman Library, phase 2 of Chevron Science Building, phase 2 of Crawford Complex, phase of Salk Hall addition and phase 4 of the Cathedral of Learning — totaling $20 million.

“The capital support is a great way of helping to stimulate the regional economy, beyond the stuff we do every day,” Supowitz said. “Putting those people back to work is a positive thing.”

Pitt also receives Academic Medical Center Funding through the Department of Human Services for the School of Medicine, the Dental Clinic, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, and the Center for Public Health Practice. The University had requested $14 million for these entities.

“I think the pandemic has opened some eyes and pointed out to legislators and elected officials what an asset a place like the University of Pittsburgh is, from A to Z,” Supowitz said. “From the direct COVID-related research to our ability to pivot before anybody did, and say, you know what, we're not going to bring these students back from spring break.”

Money from the state makes up 7 percent of Pitt’s total budget and 14 percent when research funding is removed from the equation.

Normally by this time, the University Planning and Budgeting Committee, which is made up of administrators, faculty, staff and students, would have sent its recommendations to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher for the 2020-21 Educational and General operating budget, the capital budget, and others, along with recommendations on compensation increases. The pandemic has delayed this process some.

At the May 14 Senate Council meeting, Gallagher said, “This is one of those years where our planning is basically planning for very tight budgets.”

Departments and reporting units have been asked to look at how they would cope with a flat budget, a 5 percent cut or a 10 percent cut.

Gallagher has said several times over the past two months that he thinks a tuition increase is unlikely this fall because of the additional financial pressures that families are facing, but ultimately that decision is up to the Board of Trustees. 

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 412-648-4294.


Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.