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Pitt spent $750K on lobbying for state budget fight — nine times their usual amount

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Katie Blackley
/
90.5 WESA
A number of House Republicans opposed Pitt's annual appropriation this year.

The University of Pittsburgh faced a tough battle this year in Harrisburg for its annual appropriation, and lobbying disclosure reports now show just how tough it was. The school spent more than nine times its usual amount to finally get the state funds it normally receives, according to reports filed with the Department of State.

The state-related university typically spent roughly $50,000 to $80,000 in a given quarter on lobbying in recent years, reports filed with the state show.

But for the period from April through June of this year — the most intense period of persuading lawmakers in the run-up to the annual budget — the school spent nearly $750,000, a roughly nine-fold increase.

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A number of state House Republicans were hostile to appropriating funds for the school, citing fetal tissue research they objected to on anti-abortion grounds, as well as lingering bad feelings over a redistricting commission led by former Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. (An investigation found Pitt “fully compliant with federal and state regulatory requirements” regarding its use of fetal tissue in scientific research. Nordenberg, who stepped down from being chancellor in 2014, has said the redistricting process was above board.)

School officials had said the $155 million in state funding supports the in-state tuition discount for students from Pennsylvania — roughly $15,000 per student per year.

The funds were eventually allocated, after weeks of negotiation and legislative maneuvering.

"The University of Pittsburgh faced a direct threat to our annual appropriation bill, which supports an in-state tuition discount for Pennsylvania residents,” a university spokesman said in response to inquiries about the lobbying costs. “In response, we supported the efforts of Pitt students, employees, alumni and families who were advocating for this investment in their future. Consistent with requirements, no state funds were used to support these efforts."

Much of the difference in lobbying spending — about $650,000 — was “indirect communication” – likely the advertising and alumni mobilization campaign undertaken by the school, according to one Harrisburg lobbyist familiar with Pitt’s efforts.

“Obviously, this is hugely expensive. Nobody in the real world knows what a supplemental appropriation is,” he said.

“It was either this or you walk away from $150 million,” the lobbyist said.

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at kgiammarise@wesa.fm or 412-697-2953.