This Week in Richmond

Posted: February 10, 2005 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 the General Assembly session reached its halfway point this week, all attention is focused on the budget. On Sunday, the various subcommittees recommended to the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees amendments to the governor’s submitted budget.

While we are disappointed that no general funds were recommended for capital projects, there were additional general funds recommended by both houses for base budget adequacy. Exactly how much that will be is undetermined because the House and the Senate came up with different numbers. As always, the budget conference will resolve the differences. Among the other differences that will have to be resolved by the budget conferees is the disparity between the amounts proposed by both houses for student financial aid, salary increases, and funding sources for capital projects.

The most important piece of legislation for higher education in decades is likely to be the Restructured Higher Education Financial and Administrative Operations Act. Slightly different versions were reported out from the Senate and the House. Excerpts from news reports yesterday indicate the importance of the legislation:

  • The Washington Post, Feb. 9—Each university would publish a six-year academic and financial plan to include a yearly tuition range, based on varying levels of state aid. University officials said they hope the plans would allow manageable and regular tuition increases, instead of the alternating freezes and spikes that have accompanied unpredictable state funding in recent years.
  • Associated Press, Feb. 9—The legislation offers universities varying degrees of flexibility on such matters as building projects, purchasing and personnel. The level of autonomy depends on each school’s financial strength and operational complexity. In exchange for more freedom, the universities must meet agreed-upon benchmarks in affordability, accessibility to in-state students, and other accountability measures. The schools also would make do with less state funding.

  • The Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 9—Colleges would have to show progress toward several goals—including remaining affordable, working with school systems, and ensuring students graduate on time. The bills do not include specific numerical goals. The agreements would be reviewed by the governor, top legislators, and secretaries in the governor’s cabinet.
  • The Roanoke Times, Feb. 9—Supporters, meanwhile, said the six-year plans may effectively give the legislature more oversight on tuition, out-of-state enrollment, and other hot topics. Schools that fulfill their goals would receive additional financial incentives, while those that fail may lose independence.

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