Jan. 11-17, 2002
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Raises unlikely, layoffs possible

By Matt Kelly

State legislators painted a bleak budget picture as they listened to constituents at the University’s annual legislative forum, held Jan. 4 in Newcomb Hall.

In opening remarks, U.Va. President John T. Casteen III noted that this year marks the first time in his adult life that the General Assembly would wrestle with a budget deficit. Legislators must close a $1.2 billion hole in the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

State Sen.-elect Creigh Deeds, elected last month to fill the unexpired term of the late Emily Couric, predicted a difficult session. He charged that outgoing Gov. Jim Gilmore had proposed a “political budget” for the 2002-04 biennium that incoming Gov.-elect Mark Warner and legislators on both sides of the aisle are preparing to overhaul.

“It will have to be written again from fresh cloth,” Deeds said.

Deeds noted that state agency heads were looking at the possibility of cutting jobs, and legislators could not realistically commit to any new spending, despite pressure to do so.

In that vein, Del.-elect Rob B. Bell III read a list of causes and agencies that have approached him in recent weeks, asking for more money.

Casteen noted that the University weathered the last recession without layoffs by hiking tuition. Now, he said, Gilmore has proposed lifting the freeze on in-state tuition, but with the additional money flowing to the state instead of the University.

Veteran Del. Mitch Van Yahres said that the legislature needs to fund pay increases for state workers, although he later acknowledged that the money may not be there. Apart from budget issues, he listed as priorities examining the Standards of Learning tests, which 11th-graders will soon need to pass in order to graduate, and health care for children, saying the state’s current program to provide insurance coverage for the children of working poor is wasting federal money.

Bell, a graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences and Law School, said he wants to keep U.Va. a “world-class university,” but warned that with a budget deficit, maintaining level funding would be a “godsend.” He said he favored issuing bonds to fund construction because that would spread payments out and take advantage of the state’s favorable bond rating.

Bell echoed Van Yahres’ concern about the SOLs, noting that Virginia’s plan must be aligned with federal regulations that call for testing every year. The state must also determine what to do with students who fail the final tests, which must be passed in order to receive a high school diploma.

Questions for the legislators covered a wide spectrum. Chuck Callahan of Facilities Management expressed concern over Gilmore’s proposed 50 percent cuts in maintenance funding. Van Yahres agreed, saying part of U.Va.’s uniqueness was its historic buildings. Bell noted that cutting maintenance now may lead to larger costs in the future, and Deeds declared the cut “unacceptable.”

Wilson McIvor, who said he spoke as a private citizen, chastised legislators for not fully funding the state’s new classified pay plan. Van Yahres agreed in principle, saying the plan should have been funded, but noted that the state is out of money. While state employees deserve a raise, he warned that in the coming session some agencies and programs may be eliminated.

After the forum, Van Yahres said legislators understood the pay plan should have been funded, but did not create a mechanism for it. The funding, he said, fell victim to the scaling back of the state’s car tax.

A library supervisor complained about the new, three-tier evaluation system that is part of the new classified pay system, saying it did not give managers enough latitude in rewarding employees. It divides employees into three categories – “pass, fail, or walks on water,” she said.

Helen Phillips asked about the $45 million Tuition Assistance Grant program, which provides aid to students attending private Virginia colleges, specifically asking if it might become needs-based. The legislators noted the TAG program’s popularity. Van Yahres said its purpose is to relieve pressure from public universities to increase in-state enrollment.

Sasha Wilson, a Curry School student and the student member of the Board of Visitors, said students are concerned about an increase in tuition, particularly if the increased revenues flow to the state instead of colleges. Van Yahres said that any tuition hikes should be coupled with more financial aid. Bell said any tuition increase should stay with the school.


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