WASHINGTON — Legislation authorizing a $1.65 billion education bond package proposed by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine was introduced by lawmakers at the opening of the 2008 session of the General Assembly this week.

The bond provisions were included in legislation that would authorize a two-year, $78 billion budget for the state. The legislation was introduced by Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Colgan, D-Manassas, and House Appropriations Committee chairman Lacey Putney, I-Bedford.

Kaine emphasized the importance of the bond package in his state of the commonwealth speech delivered late Wednesday.

“The bond package centers largely on engineering, science, business, and health professions. It will support our higher education system’s continuing efforts to build a more talented workforce that is fully prepared to compete in a global economy,” said Kaine, a Democrat. “Beginning these needed projects now will be less costly than in future years ... And the bond package fits well within our conservative debt service guidelines.”

The bond proposal will have to be approved by the General Assembly and most of the bonds will have to win voter approval in a referendum in November.

It is unclear if lawmakers and voters will support the bond package, but in 2002, they signed off on a $846 million education bond proposal by then-Gov. Mark Warner, also a Democrat.

In Virginia, all general obligation bonds must appear before voters in a referendum before being issued. The education package consists of $1.53 billion of GOs, with the remaining $126.5 million to be issued by the Virginia College Building Authority. Those bonds will be backed by appropriations, and do not require voter approval. They are to be issued by the authority because the proceeds are needed sooner than November, according to the governor’s spokesperson.

The proposed bonds would mostly be used to finance the construction or renovation of college research facilities. The commonwealth’s community college system would also receive $339 million.

Meanwhile, the budget legislation also includes a Kaine proposal to authorize $55 million of bonds to upgrade Virginia mental-health facilities in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings last April.

“Most of us have been directly impacted by mental illness among friends, families, or co-workers, and we know firsthand the magnitude of this problem. But due to chronic under-funding and an insufficient focus on the quality of care, our mental health system has not been measuring up to the needs of Virginia’s mentally ill,” Kaine said in Wednesday’s speech. “We must not only correct the historic under-funding of community mental health, but also demand greater accountability in the provision of care.”

If approved, the bonds will be issued by the Virginia Public Building Authority, and will not need voter approval.

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