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General Assembly committees increasing funding, salaries

By Ralph Byers, director of governmental relations

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 21 - February 22, 1996

On Sunday, Feb. 18, the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee reported their separate recommendations for changes to the budget introduced by Gov. George Allen on Dec. 19, 1995. Each chamber added approximately $90 million in operating support for higher education to Allen's recommendation of slightly over $100 million for the 1996-98 biennium.

The recommendations addressed salaries and funding for technology and equipment, and provided General Fund support to provide tuition relief to both Virginia and out-of-state students. Higher education, in fact, received more than 70 percent of the funding added to Allen's budget by the two committees.

John T. "Til" Hazel, chairman of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, stated that "It is clear from the committees' overall actions that higher education was their top priority for new funding." According to Hazel, this year's budget "will affirm-for the first time in this decade-the commonwealth's commitment to high-quality, affordable higher education." Hazel and other members of the Business Higher Education Council have worked tirelessly to emphasize the need for additional support for higher education.

Most significantly, both committees recommended salary increases for the teaching faculty to move all institutions to the 60th percentile of their peer groups in four years. For Virginia Tech, this will mean average increases of 6 percent in the first year of the biennium. Both committees recommend "place-holder" increases of 2 percent for the second year of the biennium; the legislators indicated their desire to increase these raises in the next General Assembly session if revenues are available.

The classified staff will receive across-the-board increases of 4 percent in the House plan and 4.56 percent in the Senate plan. Two-percent "place-holder" increases also were included for the classified staff in the second year.

Both the House and Senate recommended that there be no tuition increases for Virginia undergraduate students; the House recommended no increase for each year of the biennium. The Senate also provides for no increase for out-of-state students in the first year, but allows for the possibility of modest tuition increases in the second year. Neither committee endorsed Allen's proposal for mandatory tuition "contracts" with students to control tuition increases.

In the area of capital outlay, both houses recommended funding for Virginia Tech's Advanced Communications and Information Technology facility. This $25-million project will be funded by $10 million in bond funding from the Virginia College Building Authority; the bonds will be supported by the General Fund. Authorization is granted for an additional $14.45 million in non-General Funds ($550,000 in non-General Fund planning was appropriated last year.) Both houses recommend approximately $15 million for the university for the biennium through the Equipment Trust Fund, in contrast to Allen's recommendation of $4.9 million.

The Senate includes a plan to progressively advance pay dates by one pay period, to be implemented in the first eight months of 1997. This will create a two-week lag between work performed and pay received. After the transition period, paydays will remain on the first and 16th of the month. The House specifies that payroll dates for state agencies will be advanced by one day per pay period, for a total of seven days, beginning on July 1, 1996. Normal paydays will then be one week in arrears, and paydays will be on the seventh and 23rd of each month.

There are a number of differences between House and Senate recommendations in other areas, and both houses significantly modified the funding proposals in Allen's budget. These recommendations are currently being analyzed and details will be reported in future issues of Spectrum.

The full House and Senate will each vote on these recommendations on Thursday, Feb. 22. A Conference Committee will then be appointed to resolve the differences between the two versions. The Conference Committee must complete its work by March 5, and the General Assembly will adjourn on March 9.