This Week in Richmond…

Posted: January 14, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

This weekly column, written by Thomas Hennessey, chief of staff to President Alan Merten, is published to keep the university community informed on the legislative situation in Richmond and how those developments directly affect George Mason.

As most of us know, the General Assembly convenes today, Jan.14, for its “long session.” For those who have not read a newspaper in Virginia for more than a year, the big issue during this General Assembly session will be tax reform. In December, Gov. Mark Warner released his budget for the next biennium. This budget is predicated on significant tax reform and includes more than $72 million each year for higher education. George Mason, as the commonwealth’s largest university, receives about 10 percent of the new funding each year for enrollment growth, operating fund deficiencies, and research.

On Jan. 12, Sen. John Chichester, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, proposed a different version of tax reform and titled it the “Virginia Investment Act (VIA).” While the details of the act are not yet known, it is understood that Chichester proposes $100 million a year for higher education. This is intended to resolve the almost $600 million shortfall in higher education funding as soon as possible. George Mason’s share of the new revenue for higher education is not yet known.

While most expect the General Assembly will be focused on tax reform, George Mason and other schools will be working toward improving support for enrollment growth, additional student financial aid, improved faculty and staff salaries, and fully funding all new buildings.

The most interesting topic for higher education will be the issue of any college or university becoming a “charter school.” The College of William and Mary, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech have proposed that they become semi-independent “charter schools” in the commonwealth. The purpose would be to permit them to completely manage their revenue and expenditures by accepting less state support in return for complete exemption from state bureaucratic procedures. George Mason fully supports the key issues raised in the initiative, which are:

  • There is a significant and growing deficiency of more than $600 million in the commonwealth’s level of funding for its institutions of higher education.

  • It is unlikely that the commonwealth will be able to eliminate this deficiency in the near term.

While agreeing that these problems exist, George Mason also recognizes that each university and college in the commonwealth has a very different student population and environment within which it operates. While we applaud the initiative of the three schools to bring the issues to the attention of the General Assembly, we remain fully aware of the requirement as public institutions to provide the best educational opportunity for the greatest number of citizens. The proposal may be a solution for some schools in the commonwealth, but may not be the appropriate solution for all schools.

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