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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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,"
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.