By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007
RICHMOND, Dec. 13 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said Thursday that he will ask legislators and voters to borrow a record $1.65 billion to pay for construction projects at the state's colleges and universities.
The statewide bond package would fund about 75 projects over the next five to 10 years that would focus on medicine, science, education and business and provide classrooms, libraries and, in Roanoke, a new medical school.
Kaine said the bond package would help develop the state's workforce and "provide facilities across Virginia for researchers to develop new, cutting-edge technologies and turn them into commercial assets."
Legislators said Thursday that they generally support borrowing the money for higher education but want more time to study the amount and projects.
Del. Lacey E. Putney (I-Bedford), incoming chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he was disappointed that some projects approved by the General Assembly are not on Kaine's list.
"It is my intention that the Appropriations Committee will properly vet these projects to ensure that the cost estimates are accurate and reasonable before going to the voters," he said.
The proposal would be funded through general obligation bonds and the Virginia College Building Authority. The bonds must first be approved by the General Assembly in the 60-day legislative session that begins next month and then by voters in a referendum in November.
State leaders have been relying more on borrowing for large projects, including a transportation package approved this year. In 2002, legislators and voters approved $900.5 million in bonds for higher education construction projects and $119 million for state parks.
Kaine's proposal is the largest bond effort ever proposed for higher education and would come as money from the 2002 bonds runs out.
Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, which represents 2,000 two- and four-year schools, said Virginia has been reducing funding for higher education over the past two decades to pay for K-12 education, Medicaid and jails. But he called Kaine's proposed $1.65 billion a "huge amount of money" and a "substantial investment" in Virginia's higher education system.
About 360,000 students attend the state's 16 public four-year schools and 23 community colleges, making the system the 11th-largest higher education program in the nation. An additional 51,000 students are expected to enroll in the next decade.
Kaine made the announcement during a midday news conference at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he was joined by dozens of college and business leaders.
"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," said Deborah DiCroce, president of Tidewater Community College and chairman of the Council of Presidents of the state's higher education system. DiCroce, who stood next to Kaine when he made the announcement, called the decision "an early Christmas present for colleges and universities."
The package includes more than $105 million for projects at George Mason University in Fairfax and the construction or renovation of community college buildings in Prince William and Loudoun counties.
Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, praised Kaine for proposing such a significant investment for capital improvements in higher education.
"Governor Kaine has taken a bold step today to invest in building capacity at Virginia's colleges and universities," he said.
The proposal announced Thursday is one in a series that Kaine is unveiling before delivering his two-year budget plan to lawmakers Monday.
Kaine's higher education package also includes a $45 million increase in money for school operations that will be used primarily to pay for growth and inflation, a $9 million increase for student financial aid and more than $85 million for research projects.
"We have to realize as we plan, to continue to be a strong state, that we've got to keep our higher education system extremely strong, and if we do, things will go well in the commonwealth," Kaine said.