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Lag Pay Dead; More Money Sought for Higher Education

By Ralph Byers, director of government relations

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 17 - January 23, 1997

The General Assembly has adopted, and Governor George Allen has signed, legislation to kill the "lag-pay" plan adopted by last year's General Assembly. A new plan will be adopted during the course of the session as part of the deliberations on amendments to the Appropriations Act. Most observers expect the new plan, which was described in last week's Spectrum, to be adopted with little controversy. Under this plan, paydays would remain on the first and sixteenth of the month, and implementation of a one-week "lag" would not cause any reduction in take-home pay for employees.

The first full week of the General Assembly was marked by the furious activity of legislators seeking to submit legislation and budget amendments before their deadlines. The so-called "unified amendment" for higher education received a strong showing of support; it was endorsed by 80 of 100 delegates and 32 of 40 senators.

The unified amendment calls for $200 million in funding for higher education in fiscal 1997-98. The funds would be applied to bringing faculty salaries to the 60th percentile over the next three years, student financial aid, funding for technology, and items specific to each individual institution.

The large number of signatures on the amendment indicates support in the General Assembly for increasing funding for higher education to the average of the Southeastern states; however, it is not likely that higher education will receive the full $200 million in one fiscal year.

For Virginia Tech, the institutional-specific portion of the amendment requests operating funds for the increased enrollment of more than 1,000 Virginia students since 1990, for which no funding has been received. This item accounts for $5.2 million of the $7.7 million apportioned to the university for its specific needs.

The remainder of the funds would support an advanced learning center focused on mathematics, graduate programs at the Northern Virginia Center, and start-up for the proposed culinary-arts program in Roanoke. These amendments were submitted by Delegate Jim Shuler and Senator Madison Marye, both of whom also supported the unified amendment. Senator Mary Margaret Whipple of Arlington and Delegate Bob Hull of Falls Church are also supporting the Northern Virginia Graduate Center funding.

In addition to the unified amendment, which addresses university division programs, Delegates Bob Bloxom and Shuler have submitted an amendment for $950,000 for increased funding for Cooperative Extension and the Agricultural Experiment Station. These funds would be divided between the two programs; the Extension funds would support additional 4-H agents, while the AES funds would support critical operating and personnel needs in agriculture.

Shuler and Marye have also submitted capital-outlay amendments on behalf of the university. General Fund support of $5 million is being sought for the Advanced Communications and Information Technology Building; if this funding is received, construction can begin in the next fiscal year. In addition, non-General Fund authority is requested for continued planning for the Upper Quad project; telecommunications upgrades to 14 residence halls; an addition to the athletic facility under construction; an addition to Cheatham Hall; and a parallel taxiway for the airport, to be financed largely from federal funds. The latter projects will all be paid for from private or other non-General Fund sources.