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General Assembly Increases Salaries, Higher-Education Spending

By Ralph Byers, director of government relations

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 22 - February 28, 1997

The 1997 General Assembly adjourned February 22 after taking significant actions to improve salaries for the faculty and classified staff. Roughly half of the spending approved by the General Assembly above the governor's budget proposal was designated for higher education, which received virtually no increase from the governor.

As reported earlier in Spectrum, Governor George Allen had recommended salary increases of 2 percent for all state employees for 1997-98. However, in 1996 the General Assembly adopted a policy recommended by the State Council of Higher Education to return faculty salaries to the 60th percentile of the institutions' peer groups over a period of four years. This would require average increases of 5 percent per year beginning in 1996-97. The General Assembly decided to continue this policy by providing slightly over 5 percent for faculty members across the system.

For Virginia Tech, this means average faculty salary increases of 6 percent beginning December 1, 1997. Administrative and part-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants will receive 4 percent. Classified staff members will receive across-the-board increases of 4 percent on December 1.

The total increased funding for higher education approved by the General Assembly was $30.5 million. Of this amount, $18.7 million goes to faculty salaries and $11.8 million to operating accounts. Virginia Tech received an increase of $5.4 million for faculty salaries and operating expenses, or approximately 17.6 percent of the total. Virginia Tech also received the largest single appropriation for capital outlay, $2.5 million towards the $25-million Advanced Communications and Information Technology facility. This amount, along with private funds and the $10 million appropriated last year, will enable the university to proceed with the project in a timely manner.(Editor's note: Spectrum will publish detailed information on this project at a later date.)

The largest single increase in operating appropriations for Virginia Tech was $625,000 designated for the Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station Division. These funds will support 13 positions for high priority activities in Extension and the Experiment Station.

In the university division, $253,400 was provided for each year of the biennium to pay for increases in satellite transponder costs and for technology needs. Also, $75,000 was appropriated to partially restore state support for the Virginia Water Resources Center. A companion House Resolution requests the Water Center to study means of providing safe drinking water in Southwest Virginia. Finally, an additional $20,000 was provided for scholarships for minority graduate students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The non-General Fund capital-outlay projects described earlier inSpectrum were approved: telecommunications upgrades to dormitories, airport runway improvements, the addition to Cheatham Hall, and expansion of the athletic facility under construction. The university will also be required to put sprinklers in all dormitories above 75 feet; the estimated cost of this requirement is approximately $5 million.

A number of bills of interest to higher education were proposed during the session. One bill, which passed the House and was defeated in the Senate, would have reconstituted the Council of Higher Education by having the General Assembly appoint five of the 11 members. Currently, all members are appointed by the governor. The cost of education was also an issue, with various proposals for rolling back tuition, tuition tax credits, and scholarships. A program proposed by Lieutenant Governor Don Beyer to provide full tuition scholarships for second-year community-college students with 3.0 averages in selected disciplines was adopted. In addition, the State Council of Higher Education was requested to study "the demand for computer scientists, engineers, and other technologically skilled workers in Virginia industry."

Legislation proposed by Virginia Tech alumnus Senator John Chichester and Appropriations Chairman Earl Dickinson created the Commonwealth Health Research Board, which will fund research projects at state agencies and institutions of higher education that "have the potential for maximizing human health benefits for the citizens of the commonwealth." Research eligible for these funds includes "traditional medical and biomedical research relating to the causes and cures of diseases as well as research related to health services and the delivery of health care." The fund will consist of stock distributed to the commonwealth as a result of the conversion of Trigon from a mutual company to a Virginia stock corporation.

As previously reported in Spectrum, the "lag-pay" issue was resolved by the General Assembly in a manner that will maintain paydays on the first and sixteenth of each month, and with no reduction in salary for employees. This issue was highlighted last fall by Delegate Jim Shuler, and legislation he introduced to address the lag-pay issue was adopted.

Allen now has 30 days to examine and veto or recommend changes in legislation. The General Assembly will reconvene on April 2 to consider the governor's proposals. For further information on these or other issues in the General Assembly, please contract the Office of Government Relations at 1-7111.