- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

Virginia college students are actively working to ensure passage of a $900 million statewide bond referendum, which, if enacted, would bring needed funds to the commonwealth's higher education system.

"Usually general obligation bonds are not the most exciting things, but we are hoping to have the highest turnout of college students in Virginia history," said Bennett Smith, student campaign manager for Foundation 2002, the group spearheading the bond passage initiative.

Students at the College of William & Mary have gone one step further by establishing the Students of William & Mary Political Action Committee to solicit funds for its passage.

"Our president is always coming back from trips to Richmond telling us that the legislators want to hear from the students. Well, this is a way we can tell Richmond and the state that we want this bond package passed," said Brian Cannon, a junior from Chesterfield and chairman of the PAC.

Mr. Cannon, 20, said so far they have raised $6,000, mostly from members of the General Assembly. "Often they tell us it's weird giving money to a PAC, instead of asking for it," he said.

Mr. Smith, a 2002 graduate of George Mason University, said the actions of William and Mary students are unprecedented, but demonstrate the need for the bond package to pass.

"Those students took some extraordinary initiative and we are excited that they will help us, particularly as we differentiate between the bond package and [Hampton Roads] transportation referendum," he said.

Mr. Cannon said the PAC hopes to raise about $20,000 for print and radio ads. In the two weeks leading up to the Nov. 5 vote, he hopes to be able to saturate the airwaves in the Tidewater area.

Like Northern Virginia, this region will have a transportation sales-tax referendum on the ballot, in addition to the bond question.

"We don't want the education referendum to lose out to all the attention being paid to the transportation referendum," he said.

If the bond referendum is passed, William & Mary would receive $33.3 million to renovate its library, and other buildings on campus.

Micah Scwartz student council president at the University of Virginia, is coordinating the efforts on the Charlottesville campus to raise awareness. At the end of the month the school is sponsoring an all-day "Rock the Vote" outdoor concert where students can come and register, as well as learn more about the projects.

"There is general voter apathy, but this event promotes itself and we are hoping that by making students aware they will go to the polls on Nov. 5," said Mr. Scwartz, a senior from Alexandria.

The University of Virginia stands to receive $68 million for various projects on campus, including new medical facilities.

Students at Christopher Newport University in Newport News were inundated with materials as soon as they returned to campus informing them of the need to vote for the package.

"We are trying to get students to relate to the issues," said Anna Williams, president of the student government at CNU. "If they see how and where this money will go, and what will happen if this bond package does not pass, they will understand how it affects them and that will hopefully drive them to the polls."

Miss Williams, 22, a senior from Yorktown, said they also are in the process of contacting alumni in Virginia to make sure they understand the issues as well.

Christopher Newport University would receive $25.7 million for campuswide renovations, George Mason University would receive $79.5 million and James Madison would receive $99.9 million.

Many student leaders are concerned that with no top-tier races some people will stay home.

"We are a little worried that voter turnout might be low because there are no contested races this year," said Mr. Cannon. "Sen. [John W.] Warner is unopposed, and the congressional races are not competitive. That makes our job harder."

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