The Last Week in Richmond

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

This 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.

The marathon session finally ended on Friday, May 7, with the House approving the budget conference report 65-30 and the Senate approving the conference report 32-5. The conference report was crafted after agreement was reached in mid-April on the amount of revenue and the means for raising that revenue by the House and the Senate.

The deadlock on the budget was broken when a small group of Republicans joined with Democrats to call for increased revenue for education, safety, and health services. The final budget agreement totals almost $60 billion for the biennium and includes close to $1.3 billion in new revenue. Much of the new revenue addresses unmet needs in education (including higher education), safety, and public health services. What hasn’t been addressed by this budget are transportation requirements for the commonwealth. The Senate has indicated that it will focus on transportation requirements in the 2005 session of the General Assembly.

Significant to higher education in general and George Mason specifically is the funding of a 3 percent salary increase effective November 25, 2004. Additionally, there is funding for a possible pay raise in November 2005. For the first time, the budget provides specific funding for higher education enrollment and “base budget” adequacy. As the fastest-growing institution in Virginia and with one of the largest deficiencies in base budget adequacy, George Mason received a little over $3 million in additional funding in the second year of the biennium to meet enrollment and base adequacy needs.

Unfortunately, the General Assembly could not agree on the requirements for maintenance reserve throughout the commonwealth. As a consequence, maintenance reserve funding was cut almost $10 million, with a promise to revisit the needs in the 2005 session of the General Assembly. “Maintenance reserve” is state funding provided for the maintenance and repair of state facilities. Absent funding from the commonwealth, all institutions must devote some of their general operating budget to maintenance and repair. To do otherwise would jeopardize the condition and availability of facilities throughout the university.

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