General Assembly Provides Positive Results
By Ralph Byers,
director of government relations
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 25 - March 26, 1998
The 1998 General Assembly ended the longest session in history on March 17. After getting off to a slow start due to struggles over power sharing between Republicans and Democrats, the session ran overtime due to struggles between the House of Delegates and the Senate over details of car-tax relief and school-construction formulas. The latter has been left to be resolved by a reconvened session of the General Assembly on April 22.
For higher education, the session provided positive results, although not on the order recommended by the State Council of Higher Education and requested by the Virginia Business Higher Education Council. Overall, General Fund support of higher education will increase by about 6 percent for the biennium. However, due to the continued freeze on tuition for Virginia undergraduates, operating support for the institutions will not increase commensurate with the General Fund growth.
The most significant action of the session was renewed commitment to returning Virginia's faculty salaries to the 60th percentile of their peer groups. For Virginia Tech, this means an average of 5.8-percent increases for teaching and research faculty members for each of the next two years. Classified staff members will receive increases of up to 4.55 percent, depending on performance evaluations.
Another highlight was an increase in funding for the Equipment Trust Fund to the level requested. For Virginia Tech, this will mean approximately $14 million in equipment purchasing power for the biennium. The university received $2.3 million for the biennium in operating support for technology, as well as approval to charge a student fee for technology support not to exceed 1 percent of total tuition revenues. Funds to address the Year 2000 problem were included in the governor's budget, with $4.6 in General Funds and authorization for $3.9 million in non-General Funds.
The General Assembly also provided $450,000 for each year of the biennium for biotechnology programs at Virginia Tech; $100,000 of this amount per year is designated for field trials for transgenic tobacco. Smaller appropriations were included for the Unique Military Allowance for the Corps of Cadets, the Water Resources Research Center, the Reynolds Homestead, the restoration of Solitude, and a geographic-alliance program.
The Cooperative Extension/Agricultural Experiment Station Division received an increase of $760,000 for the first year of the biennium and $1.6 million for the second year to fund agents and specialists in support of the Plan to Serve Virginia's Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resources. Additional funding was also provided for scholarships for under-represented students in the colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Forestry and Wildlife Resources, Veterinary Medicine, and Human Resources and Education.
As previously reported in Spectrum, in the governor's budget the university received $23.4 million in general funds for the new chemistry/physics building, and $1 million in planning funds for the Agriculture/Forestry research facility. The General Assembly added $293,000 in planning funds for a new dairy-science complex. In addition, the General Assembly approved non-General Fund planning for the new alumni/conference center, and construction of a Building Construction Learning Laboratory with private funds.
A number of bills and resolutions of interest to higher education were considered; some were approved and some were carried over to the 1999 session of the General Assembly. Spectrum will report on these items after the reconvened session of the General Assembly (the so-called veto session), which is scheduled for April 22.