Feb. 22-28, 2002
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No layoffs, employees assured
VA Book festival, March 20-24, will open minds as well as books
Old textbooks find new life in rural high schools

To the point -- with William Morrish

Women engineers building school’s excellence
Sullivan Award nominations sought
Hot Links -- Undergraduate Research Network
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor to read Feb. 28
Students have their day in the sun in solar home contest

No layoffs, employees assured

By Matt Kelly

University officials tried Tuesday to explain an unfolding state budget picture.

In meetings at Newcomb Hall and Facilities Management, Colette Sheehy, vice president for management and budget, relayed the most recent state budget information coming from Richmond and its impact on the University. She stressed that the information is preliminary.

The House of Delegates and State Senate have each issued their own budget plans. On Thursday, the House and Senate are scheduled to approve their versions of the budget, which then go to a conference committee of six senior lawmakers charged with crafting a compromise budget by March 9. The final package then goes to Gov. Mark Warner, beginning the clock on a 30-day response period during which he has the authority to veto line items from the spending plan.

Raises, disability coverage still on the table in the General Assembly

• The House and Senate back a plan to reopen enrollment in the Virginia Sickness and Disability plan, which also includes long-term disability coverage. If employees do not want to join this plan, they will have to opt out.

• The House proposes a 2.7 percent, across-the-board salary increase in November 2003 for faculty and staff.

• The Senate proposes 2.5 percent of faculty salary base in 2003 and 2 percent in 2004 for one-time bonuses or other incentives. The Senate also calls for classified employees to choose a one-time bonus payment equal to 2.5 percent of base compensation in 2003 and 2 percent in 2004, or 10 days of paid time off.

The House measure calls for a 2.7 percent pay increase for state employees effective in November 2003. The Senate plan gives classified staff an option of a 2.5 percent, one-time bonus or two weeks off with pay for the 2002-03 fiscal year, with an additional 2 percent, one-time bonus or two weeks off in 2003-04. The same plan is available for faculty, but with more flexibility on how the plan is administered.

Warner has expressed concern that the House’s pay increase plan would be funded by money taken from the Virginia Retirement System, Sheehy noted, adding that the investments in the system are doing well and she does not believe the state would put the system in jeopardy.

U.Va. wants to protect current employees and no layoffs or hiring freezes are planned, Sheehy said. However, U.Va. has plans to eliminate 79 staff, administration and faculty positions that are already vacant or will soon be through retirement.

U.Va. is facing a 15 percent cut in its state revenues, about $25.4 million, in the 2002-03 fiscal year. That number jumps to 20 percent, about $33 million, the following year, Sheehy said. However, only about 37 percent of U.Va.’s education and general budget comes from tax money, the rest being made up by tuition and private sources, so the impact of the cuts is lessened.

Both the House and Senate budget plans assume that state universities will raise tuition 5 percent for in-state students and 8 percent for out-of-state, graduate and professional students, though both bodies set limits. The House capped in-state tuition increases at 7 percent, while the Senate set a 9 percent ceiling. The proposed budget plans also call for more flexibility for university boards to set tuition. The Senate’s plan also includes a $1-per-credit-hour fee to help pay debt service on the Building Virginia’s Future capital fund program, the proposed bond project to fund capital construction in universities across the state.

Sheehy noted the House budget would eliminate all but $5 million of the maintenance reserve fund. She speculated that lawmakers anticipate fewer maintenance costs because there will be many existing buildings renovated under the proposed capital construction project.

Sheehy also noted that the University is faring well in the capital side of the budget. The $126 million South Lawn Project — which includes the construction of a new building in the B-1 parking lot, the demolition of New Cabell Hall and the construction of a replacement building, and extensive renovations of Cocke and Rouss halls — has gained legislative support.

Among the other points Sheehy discussed was the establishment of a Commission on Health Benefits formed by the Senate to recommend a revamped health benefits program for the state workforce. The commission is slated to deliver its report Oct. 1. The Senate also called for increasing compensation for employees planning to retire in a time of no pay increases, since retirement is based on the last three years’ earnings.

At the meeting, some employees complained about the University’s decision to increase parking fees and insurance premiums at a time when employees are not given pay increases. Others questioned why the state was talking about pay increases and layoffs simultaneously.

Several employees questioned how any potential raises would be distributed, arguing that people on the lower end of the pay scale should receive higher percentage increases. Sheehy replied that the state, not the University, sets pay rates for classified staff.

While there have frequently been budget disputes between the two houses of the legislature and the governor’s office, last year, for the first time in state history, the disagreement became so heated legislators and the governor could not reach an agreement. This year, all are optimistic that there will be a resolution of the budget versions by the scheduled conclusion of the General Assembly. The two-year budget will begin on July 1.

 


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