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VSB dues to be reduced by $25

If a $10 dues reduction sounded good, how about $25?

The Virginia State Bar Executive Committee has adopted a 2011-12 budget that would reduce annual dues from $250 annually to $225, plus the $25 assessment for the Clients’ Protection Fund.

The agency’s budget and finance committee recommended a $10 decrease last month along with a 5 percent net increase in salary for VSB staff.

The EC followed the advice of legislators and backed off of the plan to increase VSB staff salaries, after hearing Gov. Bob McDonnell still had designs on the VSB reserve fund.

VSB president Irving M. Blank and EC member W. David Harless told the EC at the March 31 meeting that members of the House of Delegates told them the governor would submit a budget amendment to take $2.5 million from the bar’s operating reserve if the VSB raised the salaries.

Blank said it appeared the Senate was not part of the discussion about the bar budget between McDonnell and House leaders. McDonnnell is a Republican, and Republicans have a majority in the House. The Senate is controlled by Democrats.

Under the budget adopted by the legislature, state employees would get a 5 percent pay increase but would have to contribute 5 percent of their salaries to the Virginia Retirement System.

The VSB budget committee proposed doing the same for VSB staff, plus a 5 percent increase that the committee said would bring the staff to rough parity with other court employees. In 2007, most court employees received an 8 percent raise but VSB staff got only 4 percent.

EC member Kevin Martingayle said is “frustrating that we have been better stewards of our money than any other agency and can’t give our employees a raise.” The bar budget is composed entirely of lawyer dues. It gets no money from taxpayers. The VSB budget must be approved the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Last week, the VSB escaped what they viewed as an effort by McDonnell to micromanage the agency through another budget amendment. The measure died on a 50-50 in the House on April 6. A majority vote was required to enact it.

The amendment would have required the VSB to develop a plan to ensure that revenues are within 10 percent of expenditures and limit working capital balances to an amount that would cover three months of operations.

Blank said the measure appeared to be a continuation of McDonnell’s hostility toward the VSB and misunderstanding of how it is financed and operates. In his 2011-12 budget, McDonnell had proposed taking $5 million from the bar’s operating reserve, but the legislature rejected the proposal.

“This is obviously not going to stop as long as this governor is in office,” Blank said. Lawyers need to develop and maintain better relationships with members of the legislature, especially those on its money committees, he suggested.

“This is getting crammed down their throats as much as it is ours,” said Martingayle.

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