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Pennsylvania's state-related colleges prepare for worst as budget impasse drags

| Wednesday, March 2, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania's government is “playing a dangerous game of brinksmanship” as state-related universities contend with the eighth month without state funding, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher told lawmakers Wednesday.

Nicholas Jones, Penn State University's executive vice president and provost, said the state-related universities are braced for the possibility that no funding will come from the state for the 2015-16 budget year. “We are anticipating support from the commonwealth may not be forthcoming,” Jones said.

Gallagher said, “The old adage in management is you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

Pitt is considering a line of credit if the lack of state funding continues, Gallagher said.

The university executives warned the impact of no state funding would be profound. As the universities move into the 2016-17 fiscal year on July 1, tuition increases are a possibility, Jones said. “Everything is on the table. Nothing is off the table.”

Pitt's state appropriation would be $147 million this year, but, so far, it has gotten zero. The university was hoping for $155 million, part of a bipartisan budget framework that fell apart in December without agreement on taxes for the general fund budget. The broader dispute is over taxes and spending between Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and a Republican-controlled House and Senate.

The four state-related universities, Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln, are considered as a package in legislation, separate from the budget, that requires passage by a two-thirds vote.

State money is about 7 percent of Pitt's budget, Gallagher said.

Penn State's appropriation is $225 million, or 6 percent of its total budget.

Gallagher wants to see a multiyear funding strategy for the universities.

“Without such stability and consistency, we cannot keep tuition costs under control, and we cannot keep playing such a vital role in our state's growth,” Gallagher said.

“Pitt has become a critical economic driver for the commonwealth,” he said. “As a university, our annual economic contribution to the state is $3.7 billion,” Gallagher said.

Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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