Chief of Staff Provides Legislative Update

Posted: December 6, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

Thomas Hennessey
Thomas Hennessey
Photo by Evan Cantwell

In a Human Resources “Let’s Talk” session last Friday, Thomas Hennessey, University Chief of Staff, provided an overview of what goes on at the Virginia General Assembly’s legislative short session, which convenes Jan. 12, 2005. He also discussed the university’s legislative priorities and talked about his role vis-à-vis the legislature and other universities in the commonwealth.

Hennessey explained that Gov. Mark Warner will present his proposed budget to the General Assembly on Dec. 17, and the university is hopeful it will include funding to meet the following goals:

  • Support for growth at George Mason (5,000 additional students over the past four years)
  • Adjustment in faculty and staff salaries to be more competitive
  • An increase in student financial aid (the university is $17 million below where it would like to be)
  • Base budget adequacy (Mason is underfunded by about $20 million

In addition, the university has asked for support for Fairfax Campus facilities, which include:

  • Academic VI and Research II buildings
  • Library expansion (planning)
  • Surge space construction to house offices displaced during renovation or construction of other buildings

The university is seeking authorization to move forward with future projects on the west side (across Rte. 123) of the Fairfax Campus:

  • Faculty/staff housing
  • A university-based retirement center that would include independent and assisted living, as well as nursing care
  • A hotel/conference center
  • An addition to the Field House

Finally, the university is asking for $1 million to support the Small Business Development Center network, which is coordinated through the Mason Enterprise Center, and $100 million for biotech “macropartnership” facilities.

In the event that these proposals are not included in the governor’s budget, Hennessey explained that it will be his job to urge legislators to introduce amendments to the budget. This must be accomplished in the short time before the General Assembly adjourns on Feb. 26.

In his role as chief lobbyist for the university, Hennessey explained that he works closely with his counterparts at other universities in the commonwealth so they can present a united front on legislation of concern to higher education. One area in which the schools agree is a desire for more autonomy. “There are some areas that the schools can manage better and operate more effectively than the state,” he said. These vary from university to university, but might include purchasing, facilities planning, and negotiating leases, for example.

In discussing lobbying efforts on behalf of the university, Hennessey noted that he works closely with Mason students, especially those in Student Government, who have organized trips to Richmond in the past few years. “When a legislator hears something from a student who is a constituent, that makes an impact,” he said.

Hennessey’s legislative update will be repeated Tuesday, Dec. 14, from 1 to 2 p.m. The meeting will be teleconferenced to Science and Technology I, Room 110, on the Fairfax Campus; the Occoquan Building, Room 221, on the Prince William Campus; and the Original Building, Room 335, on the Arlington Campus. Registration is required. Register online or call Human Resources at 703-993-4180.

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