Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr., approaching his last year in office, last month ordered aides to draw up a comprehensive list of state government achievements in 1976, a list running to 28 pages and chrowcling everything from highway construction to the expansion of prison capacity.
More and more frequently critics have begun comparing Godwin's second term as governor unfavorably with his first term between 1966 and 1970 - a term regarded as one of the most active and successful in Virginia's history. Plainly nettled by this, he asked for the summary of achievements in great detail.
He said he sought to demonstrate "that even though Virginia and most other states have been forced by economic conditions to show budget restraint, we have not lost our momentum in public services."
Interviewed recently on other matters, Godwin himself brought up the comparison. "There is this tendency on many people's part to compare the two terms," he said, "but it's like comparing apples to oranges. It's the same state and the same people, but we are living under an entirely different climate of public expectations."
In 1966, Godwin said, "people's expectations for improved services were high." Virginia "was at the very bottom among the states in the number of her young people going to college. The economy, on the other hand, was vibrant. Our growth rate was ahead of the national average and ahead of the rest of the South. The time was ripe."
During his first term, Godwin broke with the tight-fisted practices of the old political organization put together by the late Gov. and Sen. Harry F. Byrd, but he did it without alienating the aging Byrd lieutenants who held power in the General Assembly.
In rapid succession after his inauguration he pushed through the state's first sales tax, greatly increased spending for schools and mental hospitals, won approval of the first general bond issue in modern times, launched a community college system and initiated a complete revision of the state constitution.
Virginius Dabney summed up the achievements of Godwin's first term in his book, Virginia, The New Dominion, and concluded: "Mills Godwin had taken Virginia out of the rut in which she had been allowing for decades."
J. Harvie Wilkinson III, in his book, Harry Byrd and the Changing Face of Virginia Politics, said of Godwin's first extraordinary year in office, ". . . greater opportunities beckoned greater numbers in the Virginia of the future. That future Virginia, Godwin had helped to inaugurate."
In less than 10 years these programs have come to be taken for granted as essential elements of state services. The sales tax alone accounts for one-fourth of the state's annual tax revenues. The 25 community colleges last year had 134,000 students on 32 campuses.
The catalog of achievements in 1976 compiled by the governor's office conveys the impression that the expansion of government funding and services that began at a phenomenal rate in Godwin's first term continues now at a reduced but still progressive rate.
It reports a 33 per cent increase in higher education spending for the current two-year budget period and for past year a 12 per cent increase in community college degrees, an 11 per cent increase in both the number of handicapped children receiving special education and the number of children enrolled in recently madated kindergartens.
Prison capacity is being expanded 30 per cent, the report said, and the vocational rehabilitation program, oldest in the nation, retrained 8,875 persons - 3,000 of them rated serverly handicapped - for new jobs.
The report said the state has achieved 92 per cent of the waste water treatment goal set for 1983 and in highway construction - lagging in other states - is nearing completion of its 1,750-mile state system of four-lane arterial roads.
Expensive tolls were removed from critical bridges and tunnels linking the Hampton Roads cities and a joint federal-state plan was inaugurated to preserve railroad service on the isolated Eastern Shore and between the lower Shenandoah Valley and Maryland.
Despite this record, there are sharp contrasts between the first and second Godwin terms. He proposed major new general taxes in the first, but has restorted to selective levies on sales and income other than wages in the second. In the first term he proposed a new college system. In the second, he is carefully weighing with legislators whether the state can afford a veterinary school or should make use of one out of state.
"To strike a balance between the demand for services and the willingness to pay taxes is the ultimate, acid test for any public official," he said. I think we are meeting that test in these difficult times."
There has been much evidence in the last two years that Godwin, despite his conservative image, has been very reluctant to tailor the growth of government to fit the economy.
The two-year budget he proposed last January assumed that the economy and tax revenues would rebound from the recession in a spectacular way. The fiscal year was hardly begun before it was clear they would not, and now Godwin and the Assembly are in the throes of making up for a 6 per cent overestimate in state revenues.
Godwin was forced to cut $113 million from authorized spending and rely on a $26 million advance from future revenue collections to balance the last biennial budget. Even as he went through that process he proposed a record capital construction program and did not suggest elimination of a single program initiated during the more prosperous times.
Godwin's reputation as a matter of the legislative process was tarnished last year when the House failed to act his proposed coal tax to finance a $60 million college construction program. Godwin points out that the 380 million was a very small part of $3.7 billion general fund budget that otherwise was adopted almost exactly as proposed.Nevertheless, he has made it clear that his experience with the House last year is influencing his actions in this session.
There already is some evidence that this approach may work. Legislative leaders have said in interviews that no consensus on a specific budget solution will be reached before the Assembly meets on Wednesday, but they have agreed that the House Appropriations and Finance Committees must jointly come up with whatever proposal the Assembly considers.
Contention within the Finance Committee and poor coordination between it and the Appropriations Committee, legislators agree, brought down the college construction program last year. This result disappointed many assembly members. There is considerable pressure on the two committees' leaders not to let similar disagreements obstruct full funding of the existing revenue gap. Failure to raise the money is certain to set off out-cries from teacher organizations and city and county officials who will have to make up for school aid cuts that Godwin might order to close the gap.
If in fact the House Committees do give Godwin the tax revenues he apparently wants without forcing him to ask for them, then his disappointment over their handling of his coal tax and college construction plan will be softened. And he can end his second term with much of the same reputation that he brought into it.