March 23, 2005
By DOUGLAS HAIRSTON
Bulletin Staff Writer
Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine's vision for the state, if he is elected governor in November, includes a state college in Southside.
Fresh off his campaign kickoff a week ago, Kaine introduced himself and outlined his goals to an audience of about 40 residents and area officials Tuesday at the Henry County Administration Building.
Kaine, the former Richmond mayor and the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, said his campaign will focus on four themes -- a 20 percent homeowner's tax relief plan, fully funding public schools, spurring economic development and shoring up transportation funding.
In addition, Kaine touted the Southside college initiative, which he gave momentum to last year when he successfully sponsored legislation to have the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia study the idea.
If he is elected governor, Kaine said, by the time he leaves office the college is going to be operating in Southside "because we need it for our kids and for economic development."
Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, who attended Tuesday's press conference, pointed out afterward that The Harvest Foundation announced its $50 million challenge grant for a state-funded college in Martinsville-Henry County only a week or so after Kaine announced his Southside college legislation.
Kaine noted that the one region of the state without a state college is Southside. So it is no surprise that college attendance is lower in Southside than elsewhere in Virginia, he said.
After his press conference, Kaine reiterated that he would not name a particular Southside locality for the college. However, he said The Harvest Foundation grant, which stipulates Henry County-Martinsville as the location, has to be strongly considered.
Although Kaine said he ultimately thinks the college should be an independent institution, he is not concerned about whether it starts as a branch of an existing institution or a stand-alone facility. "(That) is not a stumbling block for me, as long as the program is well thought out," he said.
State Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, who also attended the press conference, told Kaine and the audience that it was because of Kaine's leadership that the General Assembly allocated $1 million in its upcoming budget for a college.
The $1 million was a compromise between the $1.5 million proposed by Gov. Mark Warner and supported by the Senate, and the $100,000 budget item backed by the House for a college.
On another issue, Kaine said his "Homestead Exemption" plan would be a tool for localities to give homeowners some tax relief. He added later that rising real estate taxes are pushing some localities around the state to "near revolt."
The plan would allow local governments to exempt up to 20 percent of the assessed value of a homeowner-occupied property from taxation, he said.
Unlike the controversial car-tax phase-out of former Gov. Jim Gilmore, this tax relief would be optional. Local governments could choose to implement it all at once, phase it in or reject it, he said.
Revenue losses to localities implementing the tax cut would be cushioned by the state's full funding of public education, the largest budget expenditure both for state and local governments, Kaine said. The state "has to stop pushing off (its) obligation onto the localities."
Kaine estimated that public education was underfunded by $700 million annually prior to Warner and he taking office in 2002. But with "a billion dollars in new education spending last year," public education is near being fully funded, he said. That lessens the amount localities must spend on education.
Investing in education naturally supports economic development, Kaine said. "We are in a knowledge economy ... and one of the keys (to spur the economy) is expanding (educational) access."
Any comprehensive plan to stimulate economic development must take in that region's "assets and virtues," he said, adding that "the great work ethic" of Henry County-Martinsville residents is continually cited by businesses electing to move here.
On the other hand, this community lacks a major four-lane highway, access to a public college and needs to upgrade infrastructure, he added, and the government must be willing to invest in those areas.
Transportation is a problem all over the state, he said. In some regions it is traffic congestion and in others it is highway projects left undone for lack of funding.
The 2005 General Assembly rejected legislation that would have prevented lawmakers from using the Transportation Trust Fund to pay for other projects, but Kaine said he will continue to push for a constitutional amendment to prevent that. He also said he would veto every bill that looks to the trust fund to pay for non-transportation expenditures.
Since he and Warner took office, Kaine said, the state has gone from a stagnant economy, threats to its bond rating and bitter partisan bickering to being named the "Best Managed State in the U.S.," with the country's second fastest job growth.
Kaine said as governor, he would like to build on that accomplishment.
Kaine said he expects the race against his presumed Republican opponent, former state attorney general Jerry Kilgore, to be hard. He said Kilgore has begun the race by questioning whether Kaine's religious beliefs and moral character are genuine.
"If that's how they start, imagine what can happen in the next 71?2 months," Kaine said.
Martinsville Mayor Joe Cobbe said he particularly liked Kaine's comments regarding economic support for this area, as well as his commitment to the college.
In the past, Cobbe said, governors have shown up in this area during election campaigns and not come back after taking office. Warner has set a precedent for visiting this area and Kaine likely will continue it.
County resident Rev. Thurman Echols, who left the press conference with Kaine signs, extolled Kaine's support of a college in the area.
As Kaine was naming the state's colleges that began as branches of existing institutions, Echols told him that Norfolk State University began as a branch of Virginia State University. Echols elicited laughter from the crowd when he told Kaine to use that information in his speeches.
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