Lawmakers feud over college tuition freeze as budget deadline looms

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Members of the General Assembly could be stuck in Richmond past their scheduled stop-date on Saturday if they fail to meet a budget deadline by midnight Thursday.

Lawmakers are required to leave at least 48 hours for reviewal of the budget before the final version can be acted on. Yet, the House and Senate are still deadlocked on a number of issues, including how to control the cost of higher education.

“There was so much legislation coming through that we really didn’t have adequate time to pair off to discuss some of the tough issues,” said Republican Emmett Hanger, one a handful of senators chosen to hash out budget differences with the House.

“I think it’s going to be hard to finish on time but let’s hope we do,” said Republican Del. Kirk Cox.

The House budget proposal being disputed would give public colleges and universities in Virginia nearly $112 million to not raise tuition over two years. Cox said lawmakers passed a tuition freeze last year that’s applicable to the current fiscal year.

“We really felt like that has to be done two years in a row. The cost of college is just becoming so tough especially for the middle class,” Cox said.

Cox said the House is united on the proposal but the Senate won’t budge.

“I think the Senate needs to explain why they don’t want to do any tuition relief. I think the ball is in their court,” Cox said.

Hanger said a tuition freeze is a short-term fix that doesn’t address underlying causes for rising education costs.

“The experience in the past has been when you remove that freeze, the prices go on up. So you really haven’t accomplished anything,” Hanger said. “It really has become the position of the Senate now that we would be better served to apply that money to financial aid to students.”

If the two chambers don’t come to a consensus by midnight, Gov. Ralph Northam could call for a special session to give lawmakers more time. The General Assembly could also initiate it with a two-thirds vote.

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