Pitt works to fight funding cuts

By Gwenn Barney

In the week since Gov. Tom Corbett proposed a 30 percent cut to Pitt’s state funding,… In the week since Gov. Tom Corbett proposed a 30 percent cut to Pitt’s state funding, University officials said they have taken the first steps toward preventing that budget reduction.

“Although Pitt has always been willing to bear its fair share of the burden facing the Commonwealth in establishing the budget, the University does seek recognition of the role it plays in bettering the lives of Pennsylvanians; thus, we advocate fair treatment in the budget-building process,” Pitt spokesman John Fedele said in an email.

Pitt, along with Temple University and Penn State University, is facing proposed state funding cuts that could drastically reduce its state appropriations. While the schools said they will do their best not to let the cuts impact tuition, they haven’t come forward with set plans on how they will attempt to get the funding cuts reduced.

Corbett’s $27.4 billion state budget proposal for the coming fiscal year will slash spending and cut Pitt’s state funding from $136 million to $95.2 million.

Fedele referred to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg’s recent statement on the issue in discussing Pitt’s planned response to Corbett’s proposed funding cuts.

“Knowing the daunting challenge that we now face, we need to build upon the outstanding advocacy efforts undertaken by students, faculty, staff and alumni during the budget-building process last year,” Nordenberg said in the statement.

Last year, Corbett originally proposed a 50 percent reduction in state funding for Pitt. By the time the state passed the budget in June, the cut was reduced to 19 percent, leaving Pitt with $136 million in state appropriations, one-fifth of an allotment less than it received in 2010.

After last year’s appropriation cuts, in-state tuition at Pitt rose 8.5 percent, or $1,196, and out-of-state tuition rose 4 percent, or $948. University officials are not sure if a similar increase is in the cards this year.

“It is far too early in the appropriation and budgeting process to arrive at tuition calculations,” Fedele said.

The state needs to pass its budget by June 30. In order for that to happen, the Senate and House both need to pass a bill, and Corbett has to sign it. The budget the state passed in June was a compromise between Corbett’s original 50 percent proposal, the Senate’s 15 percent cut and the House’s 25 percent funding-reduction proposal.

Pitt usually waits until the state passes its budget to announce any tuition increase.

Nordenberg mentioned that the University Senate, the Staff Association Council, the Student Government Board, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Pitt Alumni Association have already begun advocating for Pitt on this front, but even “broader participation” from the University committee is necessary to roll back the proposed cuts.

Fedele specifically recognized Pitt Day in Harrisburg as an important step in Pitt’s movement against the budget cuts. During this event, Pitt transports students to the Pennsylvania state capital in Harrisburg by bus, giving participants the opportunity to lobby state legislators in person for reduced funding cuts.

The other state-related universities facing a 30 percent state funding cut, Temple and Penn State, have also put into motion advocacy efforts of their own.

In a statement, Ann Weaver Hart, the president of Temple University, said that Temple reduced its operating budget by $76 million over the last three years in response to Pennsylvania’s economic hardships and the state funding cuts the school has received.

“The governor’s plan, however, is not one that can be met by cutting costs,” she said in the statement.

To help get the state to lower the proposed cuts, Hart is encouraging students and parents at Temple to join TALON, the Temple Advocates Legislative Outreach Network.

Pitt has a similar advocacy group, called the Pitt Advocacy Network, which the University administration is also recommending that supporters join.

Advocacy networks provide supporters with information about methods of advocating for a university, providing contact information for state senators and representatives. They also keep their members abreast of news relevant to the group’s advocacy efforts.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson also released a statement outlining how Penn State will address the proposed funding cut.

“In the months ahead, we’ll have an opportunity to make the legislature aware of the likely impacts of these cuts for Penn State programs and how they will affect students and their families. We fully appreciate the financial pressure on the Commonwealth in identifying resources and trust the state understands the consequences of continuing cuts of this magnitude,” Erickson said.

Erickson also addressed the prospect of tuition increases, saying, “We will do everything possible to not let state funding cuts impose an undue hardship on Penn State families.”

Nordenberg said it will be hard for the state-related universities to maintain their tuition rates if their funding is cut again.

“Put most simply, it is not possible for any university to sustain public university tuition rates if it is not supported like a public university,” he said.