Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) asked the legislature today to spend an additional $600 million over the next two years on Virginia's 17 state colleges, including $23 million to help make George Mason University a high-technology showcase and $26 million to improve two historically black schools neglected in past years.
In announcing the GMU money, Gilmore unveiled a $3.2 million allocation that would allow the Fairfax County university to initiate a partnership with Oracle Corp. to create an information system within the GMU community, a special K-12 outreach project and a program to certify students on their information technology skills.
Backed by a robust economy that is boosting state government revenue across the nation, Gilmore said his new money for operations and building improvements would ensure that state-supported universities stay "among the best in the nation . . . and most of all, keep college affordable for hard-working Virginians."
Gilmore's budget will be formally delivered to the General Assembly on Friday as the assembly prepares to convene next month. The higher education proposal continues the politically popular 20 percent tuition cut at all 17 state institutions.
Gilmore is proposing to spend a total of $7.1 billion on higher education programs in his 2000-2002 budget, a 9.6 percent increase over the two-year budget that expires in June.
In Maryland, Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) has promised to use part of the state's projected surplus of $925 million on a major increase in construction at public colleges and universities.
Details of the construction plan will be announced on Thursday. Glendening said this week that one of the projects will be a new technology center for the University of Maryland Baltimore County in Catonsville.
Gilmore's office stressed that the additional funds in Virginia come with strings attached. Following the recommendations of a hand-picked commission--a panel Gilmore used to berate the schools about their spending habits--Gilmore will ask the legislature to approve a kind of contract that sends money to colleges only if they satisfy new accountability standards tailored to that school. Those Institutional Performance Agreements are sure to be hotly debated in an assembly that historically has been friendlier toward state schools than most governors have, legislative leaders said.
GMU President Alan G. Merten welcomed Gilmore's announcement, viewing it as another handsome down payment that awaits further funding to propel the 25,000-student school to the front ranks in technology education.
"What we see here is the next step toward that goal, becoming the technology university the governor wants us to be," Merten said.
Gilmore's program includes $11.8 million to allow GMU to expand technology in its classrooms and improve academic quality, all with a view toward reducing class sizes and retaining quality students. Privately, some GMU officials said they would like to see an even more dramatic shot in the arm from Richmond, as much as $30 million more a year.
In Petersburg, Eddie N. Moore Jr., president of the historically black Virginia State University, said he was "overwhelmed" by the proposed $13.7 million in new funding.
Nearly $7 million would enable VSU to complete the final phase of a campus-wide electronic communications network and create two new undergraduate programs from the three being discussed now: computer engineering, computer science and mass communications, Moore said.
A year ago, Gilmore stood on the steps of VSU's administration building and promised that he would leave the state's two historically black public colleges in better shape than when he was elected, a pledge Moore said the governor seems bent on fulfilling.
"This is extraordinary," said Moore, who has presided over the 3,150-student school for more than six years. "He has eclipsed what he did last year." Gilmore also proposed an additional $12.6 million for Norfolk State University.
Staff writer Amy Argetsinger contributed to this report.