The Final Week in Richmond: 2005 General Assembly Wraps Up

Posted: March 2, 2005 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.

Following intense negotiation the previous two days, on Sunday, Feb. 27, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. respectively, the House and the Senate of the Virginia General Assembly approved the conference report on the Budget Bill.

The general perception of those observing the results of the conference is that most members of the General Assembly believed that higher education was “taken care of” during the 2004 session and little more was required. As a result, few institutions received any additional funding for base budget adequacy. However, as the fastest growing institution in the commonwealth, Mason was an exception, and the governor and the General Assembly included additional funding to meet the growing enrollment.

All schools received funding for a pay raise for staff and faculty. As in past years, the general fund provides half of the raise, while tuition fees make up the difference. A slightly more generous pay raise was approved for all faculty in the commonwealth, with an average of 4 percent. Staff raises will be a minimum of 3 percent, with an incremental increase for years of service.

While no new funds were approved for any capital (building) projects in higher education, Mason received approval to self-fund all planned construction and improvements. This includes a child development center and work on the Patriot Center, PE Building, and Arlington Phase II.

The most significant piece of legislation for higher education in many years was the passage of the Higher Education Restructuring Act. While a lengthy and somewhat convoluted piece of legislation, the end result is that all colleges and universities in the commonwealth have an opportunity to apply for, and receive, more autonomy. In general, the first level of autonomy becomes available for any school that satisfies certain general requirements. Among the requirements is a six-year strategic plan that addresses the needs of the commonwealth. Subsequent levels of autonomy come from a negotiated memorandum of understanding (MOU) and then a negotiated management agreement. Each provides successively greater relief from the state bureaucratic processes and the ability of each institution to better manage its own resources. All schools, with Mason no exception, will be working through the summer to qualify for the first level of autonomy and preparing to negotiate for subsequent levels. No MOU or management agreement can become effective before July 1, 2006.

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