March 24, 2005
By DOUGLAS HAIRSTON
Bulletin Staff Writer
Likely Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore said Wednesday that if elected governor on Nov. 8, he will make a Southside college a line item in the state budget.
Kilgore did not mention the state-proposed college for Southside in his 20-minute speech during his first campaign stop in the area since announcing his candidacy on Monday.
"You didn't say anything about the college," one person spoke up immediately following Kilgore's speech in the press box of the Martinsville Speedway.
"We'll make it a line item (of the state budget) when I'm elected governor," Kilgore responded, eliciting an applause from the 40 or so people who attended the event, including speedway President Clay Campbell; 5th District U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Rocky Mount; Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville; and former Martinsville mayor Mark Crabtree.
Following the press conference, Kilgore said his omission was not for lack of support for a college in Southside. It was because he plans to release his comprehensive plan for higher education during what he called his "Ten Weeks of Honest Reform."
Over that period, Kilgore said in his speech, he will detail new ideas and plans on "health care, safeguarding our environment, creating jobs and opportunity, investing in research and higher education, and strengthening our commitment to public safety."
Kilgore took some heat from his presumed Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, who was in the area on Tuesday, for "wavering" on the college issue. That happened, Kaine said, when Kilgore appeared to side with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia when it released a report in January that was critical of a college in Southside.
In December, however, Kilgore, who was then state attorney general before stepping down to devote himself full time to the campaign, stood with Dr. Ronald Carrier and pledged his support for the college.
Carrier had led local efforts -- in concert with a $50 million challenge grant from The Harvest Foundation -- to have the state locate the college in Martinsville and Henry County.
On Wednesday, Kilgore refuted the idea that he wavered. "I've been supportive of the college, and I think it's important to have a four-year college in this area."
Kilgore said he simply had acknowledging that SCHEV posed a lot of questions that should be answered. "And I think we can answer the questions," he added.
He also said he supported keeping the $1.5 million Southside college funding in the 2005-06 budget allocated by Gov. Mark Warner and the Senate.
The final budget provided $1 million for the college as a compromise between the $1.5 million and the House's $100,000 college allocation.
"I'm the only one who is running for governor who can get this done," he said of getting the General Assembly to approve the college. "I'm the one who can work with the House and Senate to get this done."
Kilgore, who said he was raised on a farm near Gate City, said he has seen the economic impact and the educational opportunities offered by the University of Virginia at Wise, a school SCHEV cited in its report as not bringing economic rehabilitation to that area.
Gate City and Wise are about 50 miles apart.
The University of Virginia at Wise is an "economic catalyst for that region, and a college can be an economic catalyst here," Kilgore said.
SCHEV's issues with the proposed Southside college stemmed from its expectations of a traditional college, Kilgore speculated. "I had a great meeting with Carrier (in December). He is an out-of-the-box thinker, and I think that's what we got to have." Carrier's plan is not "your traditional four-year university, and I think that's what SCHEV's confusion was about."
On his support of the Southside college, Kilgore said, "I'm not just making a campaign promise. I'm here year in and year out. I understand this region. We have needs and higher education is one of them."
On other issues, he touted his plan to improve public education.
Kilgore said he would create an "Education Investment Trust Fund" to fund upgrades of the public infrastructure, especially public school buildings.
The fund would be used, in part, to help localities build needed classrooms, renovate aging school buildings and buy technology. The fund also would be used provide a tax rebate to parents of up to $500 per child, he added. Families would have to use the rebate to buy computers, instructional aids and other education-related items, he said.
He would fund the trust with an annual percentage of revenues generated by the state's expanding economy.
To deal with the state's transportation problems, Kilgore proposed the creation of Regional Transportation Authorities which would pursue innovative ways to raise and borrow funds to meet regional transportation priorities, he said.
These authorities would have "the power to chart their own path by determining what projects need to be build and when to build them," Kilgore said.
However, voter approval would be required for an authority to go forward with certain funding mechanisms, such as new or increased taxes, he added.
"All the answers are not found in Richmond, and all the decisions should not be made there, either," he said.
Kilgore pledged to fight for a constitutional amendment to prevent legislators from using the state Transportation Trust Fund to finance non-transportation projects.
He also proposed a plan of capping real estate tax assessments.
The plan would cap assessment increases at 5 percent per year unless the property is sold or improved, he said. "No Virginian should be forced out of his or her home because of runaway property assessments," he said.
Kilgore, 43, is a partner with the Richmond-based law firm of Williams Mullen and is married to a former public school teacher, Marty Kilgore. The couple has two children.
Kilgore was Secretary of Public Safety under former Gov. George Allen before he was elected attorney general in November 2001.
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