back slow growth
Three state delegates representing
local jurisdictions, two Republicans and a Democrat, agree on
one thing: the University should not be forced to grow rapidly,
despite the upcoming bulge in the state’s college-age population.
State Dels. Mitchell Van Yahres, D-57th; Rob Bell, R-58th; and
Steven Landes, R-25th, spoke Jan. 9 at the University’s
annual Legislative Forum, which led up to the convening of the
state General Assembly five days later. State Sen. Creigh Deeds,
D-25th, did not attend after a minor auto accident left his car
disabled. He was unhurt.
Gov. Mark Warner’s proposed tax increases dominated the
forum discussion, as they are expected to dominate the General
Assembly itself. In his budget, Warner backs $140 million in
new spending for higher education, but predicates that spending
on passage of his tax plan.
Virginia public colleges and universities would welcome any increase.
The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia forecasts that
an additional 60,000 students will enter state schools between
2000 and 2010.
The coming enrollment boom has led to speculation about the University’s
future growth. Last year, the Board of Visitors, which by law
is charged with setting enrollment levels, approved relatively
modest undergraduate enrollment increases of 450 students by fall
2007. The question is, will the state ask the University to grow
Bell — who earned undergraduate and law degrees from U.Va.
— noted that other state universities would welcome growth,
and planted himself firmly in the slow-growth camp. “I would
not like to see U.Va. go the way of Ohio State,” he said.
“I would not like to see U.Va. go the way of Virginia Tech.
Let George Mason or Christopher Newport grow as much as they want.”
Van Yahres, a former Charlottesville city councilman and mayor,
agreed. He pointed to the pressure the University’s growth
puts on surrounding neighborhoods. “The University has to
be cognizant of what is going on in the community as well,”
Van Yahres and Landes both agreed that community colleges could
absorb some of the growth. Landes also called for new focus on
distance-learning programs and suggested that Virginia’s
private colleges might be able to take some additional students.
The legislators declined to speculate about the prospects of a
package of decentralization proposals being advanced by U.Va.,
William & Mary and Virginia Tech, saying that they had not
yet seen the legislation.
The discussion of Warner’s tax proposals was similarly unclear.
Virtually no one expects that the plans proposed by Warner, a
Democrat, will pass unaltered through the Republican-dominated
But there are disagreements even among state Republicans, Van
Yahres said, with senators generally more favorably disposed toward
tax increases than Republican delegates. The intra-party struggle
could lead to an extension of this year’s 60-day session
or even a second session, he predicted.
If the governor’s $1.2 billion in tax increases fails to
pass, it is unclear what would happen to the additional $140 million
in higher education spending Warner proposed.
After the forum, Landes, who chairs the House Republican caucus,
said, “It will be up to the House Finance Committee.”
Even without tax increases, Landes said he expects economic growth
to provide some additional revenues. “If the revenue is
there, higher education will get a part of it. If not, we'll have
to take a look at it.”
However, he cautioned, “In my opinion, K-12 is a higher
priority than higher education.”
Bell, also speaking after the forum, said he would seek other
ways to make up for the $140 million if the governor’s tax