- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

Democratic and Republican leaders yesterday urged Virginia voters to approve two referendums that would create more than $1 billion in bonded debt to help fund improvements at colleges, state parks and museums.
The referendums on the Nov. 5 ballot would raise more than $900 million for community colleges, four-year colleges, universities and museums, and $119 million for three new state parks, 11 existing parks, 10 new natural-area preserves and eight existing preserves.
Locally, George Mason University would receive about $80 million for classroom construction and building renovation. The Northern Virginia Community College system would receive $35 million for at least one new building at each of its campuses, as well as various renovation projects throughout the system.
"This project will not require a tax increase," Delegate Vincent F. Callahan told about 150 people at the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College.
"In fact, it will enhance our AAA bond rating. And it took four years to get it through the General Assembly, so if we don't do it now, we might not have another crack at it for a long time," said Mr. Callahan, McLean Republican and House Appropriations chairman.
Statewide, Virginia Tech would use some of its $95.3 million to help build a new engineering facility, a biology building and an advanced animal care facility. The College of William and Mary would spend some of its $61 million to build a marine research complex and renovate art studios and its law library. Virginia Commonwealth University would receive almost $77 million that would go in part toward research laboratories and an auditorium.
"It's absolutely the right time to make these investments," Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner told about 200 people at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke yesterday.
The funds would not come from a tax increase. Instead, Virginia would raise money by selling bonds. The last time voters agreed to such a bond referendum was 1992.
State park officials are planning to use the money to purchase land, improve shoreline, roads and trails. Virginia ranks 50th in the nation for resources given to state parks.
"That's a black eye that we don't need," said state Sen. Charles Colgan, Manassas Democrat, explaining why the bond issue for state parks is needed.
The money also would pay for numerous renovations, such as stabilizing the historic Mulberry Hill Mansion at Staunton River Battlefield State Park in Randolph, renovating the Hillsman House at Sailor's Creek Battlefield State Park near Greenbay and building an equestrian center at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield County.
The two bond referendums will appear on ballots in Northern Virginia and Hampton Road with a sales-tax referendum for transportation projects in those regions. That referendum would increase the sales tax one-half percent in Northern Virginia and 1 percent in Hampton Roads to fund road construction and transit initiatives.
The bond referendums enjoy wide support, but backing for the sales-tax measure is mixed. Yesterday, supporters of the bonds urged approval of the sales-tax referendum as well.
"I hope you go out and vote for the road bond bill too," Mr. Colgan said.
"This is about voting yes and investing in Virginia's future.," said Mr. Warner. "They are separate efforts, but I do support all three."
But David K. Phillips, chief financial officer for the Arlington-based environmental group Conservation Fund, supports the bond referendums but opposes the sales-tax increase.
He said he is concerned that voters won't be able to distinguish among the referendums and that none of them will pass.
"People don't think about the state parks systems and the state parks initiative is not going to cost you a penny. Yet [the sales tax] will cost you, and in the long term, it is not going to solve the problem," Mr. Phillips said.

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