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Shuler addresses ed issues

By Netta S. Eisler

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 31 - May 4, 1995

Jim Shuler, who represents Virginia's Twelfth District in the Virginia General Assembly, talked with staff and faculty members in an informal question-and-answer session last week. The meeting was planned and organized by Wyatt Sasser, president of the Staff Senate.

Shuler gave an overview of the recent General Assembly session. "When we ended the '94 session, we had our budget for the second year of the biennium, which the Senate and House and the governor had signed off on," Shuler said. In December, the governor "came forth with other instructions--some a result of his Blue Ribbon Strike Force."

Historically in Virginia, Shuler said, the legislature does not take up new issues in the short session in the spring. But this year, in January "we were faced with a whole new set of issues to deal with--mostly budget amendments," he said.

Allen presented the General Assembly with more than 452 identifiable areas of budget cuts. "We didn't even have an inkling this was going to happen," Shuler said.

Many of the proposed cuts, Shuler said, were designed to make up for revenues that would be lost if three of the governor's proposals, dealing with individual taxes, a business tax, and prisons, went through.

The first was an effort to give Virginia citizens some tax reduction, about $33 for each family of four.

The second proposal was an effort to eliminate the Business Professional Occupancy License (BPOL) tax. In Blacksburg, for example, Shuler said, businesses pay 37 cents for every $100 of revenue.

The third big issue is funding for prisons. "We all supported parole abolition and truth in sentencing," Shuler said. "Now, a 10-year sentence means 10 years in prison." Prisoners will serve more time, but the state must find a way to pay for their incarceration, he said.

Virginia is one of only two states in the nation to ride out the recent recession without a tax increase, Shuler said. The state is one of only five states with a AAA bond rating, that saves taxpayers millions of dollars in interest.

But, Shuler said, "when we had to grapple with all of these reductions, higher education got hit." The governor's amendments would have cut more than $50 million for higher education. In a bi-partisan effort, Republican representative Tommy Baker of Radford and Shuler, a Democrat, worked together to restore funds to the universities in their areas.

Shuler called education "Our best crime-prevention program we can put forth. It may not have short-term impact, but it has long-term results," he said.

The representative said he is worried that Virginia, a state that has built one of the best educational systems in the nation, "will see it crumble" because of cuts in funding. "I see professors who can't get technical help, and classified employees who don't know what will happen to their jobs," Shuler said.

Sam Riley asked what the faculty and staff can do to help restore funding for education. "Our state provides less money per student than any other state except Alabama and Mississippi," Riley said.

Shuler replied that there is an effort to bring funding back up, but that many legislators are concerned about waste and duplication in higher education.

Riley said North Carolina provides twice the amount of support for higher education that Virginia provides.

Wyatt Sasser asked whether legislators call on state employees, especially those at colleges and universities, for suggestions and input. "When we're in session, there's no time," Shuler said. He added that, historically, there has been a lot of cooperation between the state and communities.

Don Creamer said he was concerned with some of the rhetoric coming out of Richmond, specifically the comments that the budget cuts to higher education have had "no effect in the classroom." He asked, "If anyone communicating the message in Richmond that there is an effect?"

Shuler said representatives from Southwestern Virginia have banded together into the Southwestern Caucus to try to communicate agenda items that impact on this region. Unfortunately, he said, politics do come into play.

Throughout the university community, Shuler said, people need to work with their legislators and express concerns to them.