March 3-9 , 2000
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Legislators boost pay raises, delay performance agreements
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Legislators boost pay raises, delay performance agreements

By Dan Heuchert

Well into the second half of the 2000 General Assembly, legislators appear to have embraced sweeping changes in the way employees are paid, but are hesitating to reshape the way colleges and universities are funded.

It appears that salary increases will be more generous than Gov. James F. Gilmore recommended, but several proposed benefit changes have met with mixed reaction.

Institutionally, the University scored legislative victories on tuition and admissions issues, but may have less success amending Gilmore's proposed budget.

The budget process is the major piece of unfinished business before the Assembly. Each house has approved its own version of the budget bill and traditionally votes down the other's, sending the whole thing to a conference committee. The conferees -- three from each body, with a free hand to add and delete funds -- will hash out a compromise plan acceptable to both houses, who will in turn forward it on to the governor by March 11.

Gilmore could still veto some items, which the Assembly would then have to reconsider when it reconvenes for its annual veto override session in April.

Each house has also acted on its bills and resolutions, and those that passed were forwarded to the other house for consideration.

Pay issues

Gilmore originally proposed a 3.4 percent pay increase for teaching faculty and a 2.4 percent raise for classified employees, research and administrative faculty, and graduate teaching assistants.

Both houses have sweetened the pot. The Senate proposes a 5.4 percent increase for teaching faculty, 3.5 percent for classified staff and 3 percent for administrative and professional faculty, graduate teaching assistants and part-time faculty. The House plan calls for a 4.5 percent raise for teaching faculty, but no changes to the other salaries.

Both versions would spend less tax money on salaries than Gilmore's plan, requiring that the raises be partially funded through an increase in out-of-state and graduate tuition.

A proposed reform of the classified compensation plan has met with no major opposition, with both houses upholding the proposed language that implements the recommendations of the Commission on Classified Compensation Reform.

Benefits

Employees of the U.Va. Health System would receive a new retirement plan under a bill that unanimously passed the Senate and is currently in a House committee. The plan would be mandatory for those hired after July 1, 2000; current employees already participating in the Virginia Retirement System will have the option of remaining in the current system.

Another measure dealing with long-term savings, included in the House version of the budget bill, proposes to double the state's maximum contribution to the deferred compensation plan from $20 per month per employee to $40. The state match comes after the employee makes a similar contribution to the plan, which allows employees to invest a portion of their paycheck before taxes are deducted.

Other benefit proposals that remain alive would expand the health care plan to include vision and dental care for retired employees, and include coverage for therapy for autism. The House's budget also calls for increasing to 32.5 cents per mile the allowance for state employees driving their personal cars on state business.

Several proposed new benefits failed, including: additional VRS benefits for employees who work longer than the 30 years required for full retirement benefits; additional annual leave for employees with at least 15 years of service; and expansion of health coverage to include infertility treatments, hearing, and biologically based mental illnesses. Also, a measure that would have required that state contractors pay a "living wage" to their employees failed.

IPAs delayed

Institutional performance agreements, the centerpiece proposal of the Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education, are still winning support from legislators, but their implementation has been slowed.

Under the original proposal, the process of putting together the first IPAs -- agreements in which individual colleges and universities can receive additional funding based upon meeting certain performance standards negotiated with the state -- was to have begun this summer, taking effect in the 2000-01 school year. Concerns about the colleges' base funding levels have led legislators to call for pushing the timetable back a year, in order to give a legislative study panel time to report, University President John T. Casteen III told the Board of Visitors Feb. 25.

Now, the earliest the IPAs will likely take effect will be in the 2001-02 school year.

"We continue to favor the IPAs in concept," Casteen said.

Budget matters

The University made funding for the Integrated Systems Project its top priority this year, seeking $14.2 million in tax money and authorization to spend $11 million in local funds over the biennium, but it was not included in the governor's budget.

Both houses added funds for the ISP in their respective budget bills, with the Senate scraping together approximately $9.8 million and the House $18.8 million.

Two major capital projects suffered serious blows when the Senate shot down the House's bond authorization bill in favor of its own pay-as-you-go strategy. The bonds would have supported the Fayerweather Hall renovation effort as well as the proposed Campbell Hall chiller plant, the latter project now appearing to be dead for this year. However, the Senate incorporated $400,000 for the Fayerweather project with a $9 million authorization for a new studio art building in its budget bill.

Neither house responded to U.Va.'s No. 2 operating budget priority, a request for $5.6 million for research set-ups, but the House recommended $4.2 million (of a $15.4 million request) to fund indigent care at the U.Va. Medical Center. Both houses added to Gilmore's $12 million capital-fund request for a maintenance reserve (U.Va. asked for $16 million), with the House kicking in $2.6 million more and the Senate $1.9 million.

Both houses tinkered with Gilmore's proposed $20 million Technology Competitiveness Fund, designed to bankroll research with "scientific merit and economic development potential." The House proposed to cut the general-fund authorization to $15 million, require that higher education institutions match grants dollar-for-dollar, and limit research to aerospace, biotechnology, energy, environmental and information technologies, high-performance manufacturing, telecommunications and transportation. The Senate slashed the fund to $11 million and included language that limited eligible projects to those that include collaborations with other colleges and universities or business and industry.

Other measures

Two bills that the University opposed died in committee. One, passed by the House, would have extended Gilmore's 20 percent rollback in in-state tuition through 2004; Senators apparently balked at tying the hands of future governors, Casteen told the Board of Visitors. The other, which would have mandated that U.Va. and other state schools maintain at least a 67 percent in-state enrollment, was carried forward to the 2001 session.

Another measure of interest still alive calls for an executive-branch study of mandating a statewide technology curriculum, to be required of all undergraduates at the state's four-year institutions.

"This is the first time that any agency outside the Board of Visitors has had any implication of authority over curriculum," said Casteen, who nonetheless added that he has been considering looking into the feasibility of such a requirement at U.Va.

The chief obstacle is accommodating the various backgrounds of undergraduates and the degree to which technology literacy is already incorporated into degree requirements. "We would not want to force students to take courses that are too elementary," Casteen said.

Three measures in which U.Va. has an interest have passed both houses and await Gilmore's signature. One transfers the Blue Ridge Hospital property to the University Real Estate Foundation, for the purpose of establishing a research park and a new Monticello visitors center; another adopts proposed nationwide standards for electronic transactions; and the third extends the authorization for the Board of Visitors to conduct business by audio or video hookups through July 1, 2001.

Two other bills have passed one chamber and are in committee in the other. A House measure expands the investment options available to the U.Va. Board of Visitors, while a Senate bill would allow the University and other state agencies to donate surplus computers to public schools or tax-exempt organizations that aid the disabled.


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