On March 13, the House of Delegates and Senate approved a $77 billion budget for the 2008-2010 biennium which will take effect on July 1, 2008. The General Assembly adjourned almost a week late after the conferees could not agree on a final budget by the original adjournment deadline.
With revenues estimated to be down over $1.3 billion for the next three years, little new funding was available. Most state agencies received an additional 5 percent budget reduction in the conference report. Fortunately, higher education was protected from further budget reductions beyond what was taken in October, which for Virginia Tech was 6.25 percent, or about $12 million. Despite the revenue shortfall, the conference report included a salary increase of 2 percent in both years of the biennium effective November 25, 2008, and 2009.
Virginia Tech received an additional $4.5 million each year of the biennium in general fund operating support, which totals approximately 7 percent of the new funds allocated to higher education in the biennial budget. This included $1.7 million for base budget adequacy, $2.8 million to continue a portion of the Commonwealth Research Initiative, and $200,000 to reimburse the university for some of the expenses from last year’s quarantine of the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center. The university will also receive the state’s share of the salary increase, which is split 40 percent from the state and 60 percent from the university, and $400,000 for undergraduate student financial aid.
The budget continues other statewide research initiatives specifically the Commonwealth Technology Research Fund at $1 million each year of the biennium, which supports a number of university research projects, and the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium which includes faculty members from the university’s Advanced Research Institute in Alexandria.
Separate conferees were appointed resolve the differences between the House and Senate capital proposals. The conferees could not agree in time for adjournment, and a special session was called to begin work on a compromise immediately after the adjournment of the regular session. Delegate Lacey Putney, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, proposed the 21st Century Capital Improvement Plan which provides a six year capital construction plan for higher education, museums, corrections, parks and recreation, and mental health facilities. It also creates a new process for project pre-planning, approval, and funding. In this bill, the university would receive funding in 2008-09 for the medical school and research institute, and pre-planning funds for the Sciences Research Laboratory I (Geosciences); the Engineering Signature Building; and the Human and Agricultural Bioscience Facility, Phase I.
In the second year of the biennium, the legislation provides pre-planning funding for the deteriorated section of Davidson Hall. Senator Charles Colgan, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced a capital plan which also creates a six year capital funding plan. Virginia Tech projects in the Senate plan include full funding for the medical school and research institute and planning money for the deteriorated section of Davidson Hall, Signature Engineering Building, and a chiller plant.
Other items taking effect on July 1 include over 50 pieces of legislation dealing with mental health as a result of the April 16 tragedy. Many of the bills were recommendations of the Virginia Tech Review Panel and dealt with the reform of the mental health system in the Commonwealth. A few bills were specific to higher education, including the requirement for institutions to have an emergency notification system and a threat assessment team, modeled after what the university has already put in place.
Senator Edwards and Delegate Nutter carried identical legislation on behalf of the university to allow for the transfer of land from the university to the Virginia Tech Foundation to for the development of Phase II of the Corporate Research Center. The legislation was passed unanimously by both houses and signed by the governor.
The reconvened session will be held on Wednesday, April 23. The General Assembly will vote on any budget amendments or vetoes proposed by the governor. It is also anticipated that the conference report for the capital bills will be finalized and ready for a vote while the legislature meets for the reconvened session. For additional information on the 2008 General Assembly session, please contact Laura Fornash (mailto:email@example.com), director of state government relations.