WASHINGTON -- Virginia officials are launching a major campaign to get voters on Nov.3 to approve $613 million of general obligation bonds for projects in education, mental health, and parks.
In three bond-related ballot questions, Virginia voters will decide whether the state should issue about $450 million of bonds for education projects, roughly $95 million for parks and recreation projects, and about $45 million for mental health facilities.
Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who formally kicked off the campaign last week, has named Economic Development Secretary Larry Framme to manage the drive, and late last week selected two prominent businessmen as honorary co-chairmen.
"We've had in Virginia a budget crunch that has prevented us from funding a number of needed projects through the normal appropriations process," said Mr. Framme, who is leaving his post July 1 to work on the bonds campaign full time.
"The focus of our campaign will be to bring the message to the citizens that if we're going to maintain our outstanding quality of life here in Virginia, we're going to need to get these projects built," Mr. Framme added.
Serving as honorary co-chairmen are William W. Berry, chairman of the board for Dominion Resources Inc. and chairman of Virginia Power, and Sidney O. Dewberry, co-founder and managing partner of Dewberry & Davis, an architectural and engineering firm headquartered in Fairfax, Va.
Mr. Framme said he does not foresee any organized opposition to the bonds, but added, "When the governor was asked [whether he expected any opposition], he said, 'You make plans for war in times of peace.' That's where we are. We don't expect any opposition, but we want to be prepared."
Mr. Framme also said prominent Virginians will campaign for the bonds around the state. The drive may also include media advertisements, he said.
While officials are now gearing up their effort to get the bonds approved, just getting the bond referendum on the November ballot was a major victory for the Wilder administration.
Originally, the government saw the plan shot down in the House of Delegates at the end of February. At that time, the defeat was attributed to dissatisfaction, particularly among members from northern Virginia, with the lack of money for transportation projects.
The House earlier had approved an alternative plan advanced by Majority Leader C. Richard Cranwell, D-Vinton, that would have provided transportation money. Under that proposal, voters would have been asked to approve a $1.15 billion economic recovery bond issue and a half-cent sales tax increase to help defease those bonds.
The Cranwell alternative to the governor's plan was blocked in the state Senate. Gov. Wilder then successfully lobbied to end the impasse, and his bond proposal cleared both houses of the General Assembly.
While the bond proposals will not provide more money for needed transportation projects in the northern part of the state, officials doubt the plan will be rejected by voters on that basis. They have said the bond plans would pump money into the state educational system, which benefits the entire state.
"The outstanding quality of life that we enjoy today as Virginians has been built upon the investments of past generations of Virginians who believed that they held the future in trust for their progeny," Gov. Wilder said at the official launch of the his campaign for approval of the bonds.
"And with the proper investment," he continued, "we can also ensure that our children and their children receive top-notch education and enjoy the same opportunities that we have been accorded."