The Virginia State Bar’s uphill climb for relief from budget restrictions became a little steeper last week with the release of Gov. George F. Allen’s proposed budget for 1995-96.
The 1994 General Assembly imposed a freeze on dues and staffing increases and pared back the agency’s spending authority for two years.
The VSB had asked the Department of Planning and Budget to increase spending authority and to lift restrictions on dues and staff increases this year. But Allen’s plan leaves intact the budget from the 1994 session.
The VSB sought an increase in its 1995-96 spending authority from $5.2 million to $6.6 million, largely to cover programs included in the bar’s long-range plan approved by the VSB Council in October, according to VSB Executive Director Thomas A. Edmonds.
The long-range plan includes several new positions in the disciplinary department and a $200,000 contribution to the Client Protection Fund. The plan also calls for a dues increase, estimated to range between $35 and $45.
“While I didn’t expect to get everything we asked for, I am surprised that we didn’t get anything,” Edmonds said.
VSB President Kathleen O’Brien could not be reached for comment.
The budget department did not act on the VSB’s request because it was keeping a tight rein on increases in all state agencies, both those receiving money from the state’s general fund and those, like the VSB, that are not directly funded by taxpayers, said Barry Green, manager of the budget department’s transportation and public safety section. Overall, Allen’s budget includes $402 million in spending cuts and a net reduction of nearly 1,100 state positions.
Also, the General Assembly’s inclusion of language limiting staff and dues increases during the 1994-96 biennial budget gave the budget planners pause, Green said.
The budget bill states that no new staff positions or dues increases are authorized for the two-year budget. The VSB is also advised to focus its attention on regulating lawyers and improving the quality of legal service in Virginia.
“We had the request from the bar and considered it, but the General Assembly had expressed its intent. The language is pretty explicit,” he said.
Edmonds is not certain what effect the Governor’s budget will have when VSB leaders seek relief from the legislative budget committees.
“It’s always nicer to be in the governor’s budget, so you only have to defend what’s there,” he said.
But, he added, the Assembly can always change language in the governor’s budget.
Last year’s restrictions, in fact, were such a change made by the Assembly to the governor’s proposal.