If Kenneth White had his way, Virginia would not even consider spending money building more college libraries or educating adults.
Libraries are "uncontrollable dollar sinks," relentlessly consuming tax dollars as libraries buy more and more books, he said the other day. And vocational adult education? Well, he sniffed: "The idea of subsidizing adults . . . is totally unreasonable."
Given such reasoning, the Harvard-educated White is, not surprisingly, in the fore of a battle to defeat the second general obligation bond issue Virginia has faced since it officially abandoned pay-as-you-go financing nine years ago. A Lynchburg lawyer and bank director, White is a bitter opponent of a $125 million bond issue that would finance new college, park, prison, port, and mental health facilities around the state.
A lot of Virginians are certain to hear White's arguments against the bonds before the Nov. 8 general elections when the bonds will be placed before the public in a referendum. The reason, say many Virginia broadcasters, is that White has the law on his side.
Using the equal-time provisions of federal broadcasting law, White has dogged proponents of the bonds across the state, demanding - and receiving - equal time on the stations to counter arguments for the bonds. Unless the proponents are being covered as part of a news event, the stations are obligated under the Federal Communications Commission's "fairness doctrine" to give opponents of an issue time, equal to that given the proponents.
Constantly invoking the memory of Virginia's debt-hating Harry F. Byrd Sr., White, who heads a relatively obscure group known as the Virginia Taxpayers Association, is more than ready to accept the free air time.It is part of his group's efforts to undo a $114,000 promotional campaign for the bonds being pushed by Gov. Mills E. Godwin and most of the state's political leaders.
Byrd's memory alone is reason enough for White and a loose confederation of conservative groups to mount what some opposing politicians assert is an often inaccurate campaign to kill the bonds. "The only thing we see is that bonds cost more," said Gil Ryback, a vice president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers' Alliance, another of the antibond groups.
Supporters of the bonds argue that if the various building projects are postponed, higher costs and inflation are certain to boost costs above the interest rate the state will have to pay on the bonds, a point that some of the opponents concede.
Normally the conservatives would not trouble many politicians, but this year most of the public's attention has been riveted on the cacophonous races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. That has created widespread ignorance and uncertainty over the bond proposals, some bond backers say.
Preston C. Caruthers, the Arlington builder named by Godwin to head the bond drive, has said that he expects many Virginians will be startled when they enter their voting booths and discover, for the first time, they have to vote on five separate bond issues. The results may be that as many as 30 per cent of the voters will vote against the bonds out of ignorance, he said.
The five issues require voter approval for $86.5 million in bond issues for higher education improvements; $21.5 million for prisons; $8 million for ports; $5 million for parks and $4 million for mental health facilities.
Still more opposition may be forming. Arguing that the state's historicall black colleges have been "shortchanged" in the bond projects, Jack W. Gravely, the new executive director of the Virginia NAACP, will ask his group this weekend to take a position on the bonds. The NAACP has avoided political endorsements in the past but Gravely is warning "we can't take a hands-off attitude anymore."
If Gravely is able to arouse black opposition to the bonds, it could create uncertainty over whether the proposals will be able to win the same broad support from the electorate than they already have won from the state's political leaders. "We're talking here about the one area Gov. Godwin. Henry Howell (the Democratic nominee for governor) and John Dalton (the Republican nominee) can agree on and I think that is unique," Caruthers said.
Still, there is no doubt that the bonds are being questioned this fall in surprising quarters. Howell was about launch into an attack on Dalton's record on consumer issues last week when one supporter at a Petersburg breakfast startled him with the question. "Henry," the man asked, "What about that $125 million bond issue?"
"Yes sir. I'm for that bond issue because it's good business," Howell snapped back, warning his supporter than if the bonds failed it could force higher taxes - something Howell has pledged to avoid.
Howell's supporter was unmoved and others in the audience began grumbling aloud over Godwin's role in pushing the bond proposal. "I can't tell you about Godwin," Howell said, referring to the man who defeated him for governor in 1973, "Lord, I don't see him but once in every four years."
". . .I'm just telling you that as a friend of Henry's to hold your nose and swallow and vote 'yes' for good government and good business," Howell added, discarding his prepared speech. The bonds "aren't his (Godwin's); it's the people's (bonds)."
With backhanded endorsements like that the bonds might appear to be in trouble. Caruthers' "Virginians for Bonds" has formed an extensive bipartisan organization across the state to press the bond issues, but each time they take to the air waves or to a public forum, they seem to be trailed by White or a member of his organizatioN.
"I was speaking on a radio station in Harrison the needs of the posts," said E. R. (Red) English, chairman of the Virginia Port Authority. "And I had hardly gotten off the air when there was White, calling up from Lynchburg to get the same amount of time on the air, opposing me."
On a recent TV appearance White claimed a membership of 8,000, but officials of "Virginians for Bonds" dispute his claim, saying that the group probably is much smaller. "We really have no way of knowing" how small, said Jean B. Traweek, assistant director of the probond group.
Unlike the probond group, the Virginia Taxpayers Association is not required to file campaign expense reports, nor is it required to file the lobbying reports required of other groups that lobby in Richmond. Because the group was not formed expressly to oppose the bonds and because it claims to spend no money in its lobbying, those reports are not required according to the state attorney general's office.
Bruce C. Miller, a former Godwin aide on leave to run the bond drive, claimed that much of the antibond information in a flier distributed by the Taxpayers Association is "not only inaccurate," but also misleading. Interest charges on the bonds over their 20-year life probably will amount to about $61.5 million, not the $75 million claimed by the opponents, he said.
White's group once put out a press release saying it was opposing all the bonds after making "a detailed review" of the proposal. On his television appearance, White conceded that his group had not made a detailed study of either the higher education bonds or the corrections bonds, which account for $108 million of the proposed issue.
Even so, White said he was not about to drop his opposition. "There is no question that many of these things would be nice to have," he said. "It's a question of what we can afford."