Pitt powers through state budget impasse

While the state scrambles to pass the 2015-2016 budget, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher refuses to let the financial crisis thwart the University’s excellence.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gallagher and the University Senate Council addressed the continuing state education budget impasse and the accomplishments of several faculty members before hearing reports from the Student Government Board, the College of General Studies Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Student Government. The meeting, which occurs on the third Wednesday of every month, took place in Posvar Hall from 3 to 4 p.m.

Despite ongoing debate since June 2015, Pennsylvania legislators continue deliberating over a budget for the current fiscal year. For state and state-affiliated schools, including Pitt, this means they have yet to receive funding from the state for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

“Let me talk about the budget,” Gallagher said. “We still don’t have one, is the bottom line.”

Though it initially waited for the state to pass a budget before planning the University’s budget, the Board of Trustees has since decided to move forward with the assumption that Pitt will receive a similar amount of state funding as it received last year — $147 million, according to the 2014-2015 budget presentation.

In order to continue University operations without state funding, Gallagher said at the meeting that Pitt has been forced to take financial risks.

“What we are in fact doing is eroding our long-term financial health to cover this,” Gallagher said.

President of the University Senate Frank Wilson said Pitt can manage these financial issues, but only for the time being.

“We at Pitt, fortunately, can weather this storm, at least for a while,” Wilson said.

While Wilson said Pitt can pull through, he recognized that Pennsylvania school districts may not be able to afford normal operations without state appropriations. He said the extreme budget delay is “unconscionable” because of its potential to impact quality of education across the state.

Gallagher said despite budget issues, Pitt continues to operate at a near-normal level. He said recent University successes — like the large turnout at Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Monday — keep him optimistic.

“We have continued to succeed in what we’re here for, which is education, research and service to our community,” Gallagher said at the meeting, emphasizing Pitt’s recent community service involvement.

Gallagher applauded the 700 Pitt students, staff, faculty and alumni who spent their day off serving the community.

“It went from an extra day off in a lot of people’s mind to a day of reflection,” Gallagher said. “It has become a day of service.”

Nasreen Harun, SGB president, echoed Gallagher’s thoughts about MLK Jr. Day at the meeting.

“Everyone there was really excited and had positive attitudes despite how cold it was,” Harun said.

Gallagher emphasized the importance of students’ involvement in things like MLK Day of Service, even in times of financial uncertainty. He said the delay on the budget would not prevent him from keeping a positive outlook.

“I still remain dumbfounded that we’re still talking about this,” Gallagher said. “But optimistic that we’re going to be OK.”

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