Kaine: Time right for college proposal

November 4, 2004

Bulletin Staff Writer

Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine hopes action will be taken on a college in the area before Gov. Mark Warner leaves office in 2006.
Speaking in Martinsville on Wednesday, Kaine said Warner is interested in state and private efforts underway on the college issue.

"He is aware that the opportunity we have because of the private money on the table (The Harvest Foundation's $50 million challenge grant) is not one of those opportunities that comes around often," Kaine said.

"I'm very hopeful that something is going to be done before Mark (Warner) leaves office" in 2006, he added of the college initiative.

Kaine said he has talked "extensively" with officials of the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) about the idea. Following its three days of public hearings last week on the matter, SCHEV expects to give Warner and General Assembly recommendations on the subject by Jan. 12.

He added that he thinks the college idea is coming at a favorable time.

In the January session of the General Assembly, Warner and the legislators are expected to take up a proposal by the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and the College of William and Mary to accept less state funding for more autonomy.

That gives the governor the chance to raise the more comprehensive issues facing higher education, issues such as charter universities, a college in this area, how to meet the projected 62,000 increase in college and university enrollment over the next decade and how the state can better fund institutions of higher learning.

In addition to helping meet the projected increase in enrollment, Kaine said he raised the college idea for three reasons: the need to establish a college in the only region of the state without a public college; to raise the number of people in Southside with college degrees which, he said, is about a third of the state average; and to provide a catalyst for stimulating and transforming the economy.

Although Kaine said SCHEV is best suited to say where a public college should be located, he said he was pleased to see in SCHEV's public hearing in Danville that there was no contention over where the college should be established. No one proposed that it be located anywhere but Henry County or Martinsville at that meeting.

"Everybody understands that if it's in Southside anywhere, it will benefit all of Southside," he added.

Kaine briefly addressed the advantages of the two college models proposed to SCHEV. Longwood University suggested a collaborative effort among Longwood, Patrick Henry Community College and Old Dominion University. Dr. Ronald Carrier, who was hired by The Harvest Foundation to devise a plan, has proposed the New College of Virginia.

Longwood's plan is more of a traditional one in which students would complete their first two years at PHCC and their second two enrolled in Longwood or ODU, all on PHCC's campus. The New College of Virginia plan proposes an accelerated schedule in which students could receive baccalaureate degrees in 28 months.

Noting that it takes most students about 4 1/2 to 5 years to attain bachelor's degrees, Kaine said, "If there is a way to compress the schedule and thereby make it more affordable and doable ? gosh! Why not create a new model?"

On the proposed Interstate 73 and funding for the continued widening and straightening of U.S. 58, Kaine said he expects transportation issues to take center stage in the 2005 General Assembly session.

"Last year, we left transportation for another day. The day of reckoning is coming," he said.

Kaine said referendums that would have increased taxes to fund transportation projects in some parts of the state were overwhelmingly rejected two years ago, he said.

The problem, he said, is that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has lost public credibility over the last decade with its level of cost and project-completion overruns and the legislative raids on the transportation trust funds.

"I don't see much possibility of success in finding more money until we convince people that we are using their money the right way," he said.

Three ways to do that, Kaine said, are to continue Warner's efforts to ensure that the department is run by professionals, not politicians; shore up the trust fund by not allowing legislators to use the money for any other purpose; and better coordinate cities' and counties' land-use plans with VDOT's highway plans.

Kaine said he plans to run for governor next year, and expects to run unopposed to top the Democratic ticket.

He also said that he believes he and Warner have put together a model which could serve the national Democratic Party for winning the South.

He was alluding to Sen. John Kerry's failure to win a single state in the Sunbelt region in Tuesday's presidential election. Their model focuses on the "bread and butter" issues: economic development and education, Kaine said.

Since taking office, Warner and he have "rescued the state's bond rating, put (the state) back on the track of fiscal responsibility, reformed the budget ? and done it in such a way that the economy is thriving. We have the second fastest job growth in the United States," he said.

It also is important for Democrats to reach out to people of faith, Kaine said. "One of my most significant criticisms of the national party is that Democratic candidates often run bashing the religious right. That's stupid."

Kaine, who worked as a missionary in Honduras when he took a year off from law school, said many Democrats are people of faith and they must feel comfortable reaching out to others of faith.


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