May 3-9, 2002
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Politics 101: Gov. Warner addresses students
Gov. Mark Warner
Photo by Matt Kelly
During his guest lecture, Gov. Mark Warner urged U.Va. students to stay involved in politics.
He also announced his plans for a higher education summit this fall.

Politics 101: Gov. Warner addresses students

By Matt Kelly

Gov. Mark Warner figures he has already faced four of the seven plagues in his first 102 days in office, in addition to the $3.8 billion budget shortfall he inherited from his predecessor, he told politics professor Larry Sabato’s Introduction to American Politics class April 24.

Warner recalled that he declared states of emergency for a drought and a flood in the same week, and has had to deal with a flu epidemic racking the state’s turkey industry, a stubborn tire-dump fire and a redistricting court case.

“I don’t know what else God has in store for me,” he said to the students who packed the room.

Sabato, who directs the Center for Governmental Studies, is recognized nationwide as a political pundit. His classes often lure high-profile guest lecturers from the world of politics, including members of Congress and presidential aspirants.

In his analysis of the state budget, Warner said former Gov. Jim Gilmore and the legislature took advantage of extraordinary economic times to cut taxes by $1.5 billion. While the car tax cut got all the publicity, he said, there were 50 other tax breaks created — many of which he supported. But taken all together, they were too big a hit on the state’s revenues. At the same time, the legislature increased spending by $1 billion, as if the good times of a “go-go” economy would last forever.

“The economic recovery has a better chance in Virginia, but that’s not going to put us back to the ‘go-go’ days,” Warner said.

In addition, he called for an overall tax restructuring and six-year projections on the impact of any financial legislation. The state is very dependent on an income tax, which brought in revenues when there was a flush of high tech and dot-com millionaires. But this bubble has now burst.

Warner stressed his business background in dealing with financial problems and said he has been criticized from both sides of the aisle while coming up with a budget that he described as sharing the sacrifices.

Warner trumpeted his support for the state’s colleges and universities, which he said should be idea labs, generating intellectual capital. He cited his support for a construction bond referendum that will be benefit many campus building projects, lifting the state’s tuition freeze and increasing student aid. Even with the tuition increase, he said students will pay less than four years ago in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Warner said he plans to hold a higher education summit in the fall to address several issues, including the issue of satellite campuses in Northern Virginia, how universities are using technology, better use of research facilities and how schools can partner with each other. He said in many ways the universities are the slowest to adapt to change.

The information age is changing lives, work and health care, but most politicians don’t understand its full impact, he said. Through technology, young people with new ideas can start businesses in economically disadvantaged towns like Martinsville, reaching larger markets through the Internet. As a businessman, Warner created venture capital funds to promote investment in rural areas, and since being governor he took credit for creating 2,000 jobs in the state, including 1,400 in southside and western Virginia.

“It used to be if you had an idea you went where the money was,” Warner said. “Now they can build it anywhere.”

Warner expressed support for the state’s Standards of Learning initiative as providing critical measures of school success. Students would be the losers if their schools did not perform, said Warner, who suggested that more emphasis needs to be placed on vocational and technical education, saying plumbers and electricians are also valuable to society.

Thanks to federal legislation, the state can intervene with failing school districts, he said, threatening to withhold some of their federal funds if the district does not take steps to correct its problems.

On security since the September terror attacks, the state has been trying to coordinate all first responders, which Warner said aided the response to a recent tire fire in Roanoke County. He also warned of possible cyber attacks, noting that half of all Internet traffic passes through Northern Virginia.

Of his own political success, Warner said he generated grassroots support, courted rural Virginia and also motivated his own Democratic Party base of voters, including blacks, who voted about 90 percent for him. His business background also appealed to some Republicans, he said. He reminded students that even with a good organization, tremendous personal energy and getting out the vote, he only won by 5 percent.

Warner encouraged Sabato’s students — Democrats and Republicans — to stay involved with politics. More frightening to him, he said, are young people who do not get involved because they believe all politicians are bad.

Sabato chided Warner for not attending U.Va., but noted that the governor’s wife was a graduate and assumed that his daughters would be attending the University.


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