Pitt chancellor warns of 'devastating consequences' in state budget standoff
February 26, 2016 1:21 PM
Charles Dharapak/Associated Press
Pitt chancellor Patrick Gallagher
By Bill Schackner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher today said that Pennsylvania’s state-related universities — still lacking a state appropriation — are now bargaining chips in a “very serious game of brinksmanship” that could have “devastating consequences.”
Speaking to the school’s Board of Trustees, Mr. Gallagher said that Pitt, one of those universities and the largest in Western Pennsylvania, educates nearly 35,000 students and creates a livelihood directly or indirectly for 34,000 people in the region. He said the university traditionally provides a strong return on the state’s financial investment, and added that the standoff in Harrisburg between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican state legislators “is not a winning strategy.”
Pitt and the other state-related schools — Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities — are now eight months into the 2015-16 fiscal year without any state funding. He said that equates to a roughly $147 million hole in Pitt’s budget.
“With each day without action in Harrisburg, we face a growing possibility that we will not receive any state funding this year,” Mr. Gallagher said.
That would be on top of a downward trend that by last year already had reduced the level of state support for Pitt to 1995 levels.
“Put otherwise, when we last received funding, it was on a par with 20 years ago,” Mr. Gallagher said.
He said no one in Harrisburg is advocating that the state-related schools be denied funding. In fact, it is for that reason that the schools’ appropriations collectively are attractive fodder in this political fight.
He described the situation as unprecedented in the half-century that Pitt has received funding as a state-related university.
Mr. Gallagher said it appeared just a few months ago that the state-related universities might actually see a funding increase, but that hope dissolved as did what had appeared to be a budget agreement between legislators and Mr. Wolf that might have completed this year’s state budget.
Instead, only a partial spending plan is in place and both sides continue to blame each other.
Mr. Gallagher’s remarks during today’s trustees meeting are consistent with an increasingly blunt message that the state-related schools have sent of late as their leaders prepare to head to Harrisburg next week for appropriation hearings on the governor’s proposed 2016-17 state budget -- still uncertain what if any money they might receive this year.
Mr. Gallagher said Pitt has reduced expenditures in response to the overdue funding, but he added, “I have to be honest – there is no way to cut yourself out of a (nearly) $150 million hole.”
In response to a question after the meeting, Mr. Gallagher declined to offer hypotheticals about how the standoff might affect future tuition increases, but he said there are only limited avenues Pitt can pursue to offset the missing state dollars.
Bill Schackner: email@example.com, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.
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