RICHMOND, Dec. 16, 2000 - Virginia Tech would receive $16 million in state funds to help pay for its genetic research center under a plan proposed Friday by Gov. Jim Gilmore. The governor unveiled a $302 million spending plan for higher education Friday during a news conference at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The package includes $249 million in bonded debt to finance capital projects and cover rising maintenance costs at state colleges and universities. If approved by the General Assembly, funds earmarked for the Tech project would cover the last phase of construction in a four-year, $51 million plan to develop what officials are calling a bioinformatics institute on the campus.

"This shows us that the governor is supportive of the whole bioinformatics initiative," said Larry Hincker, Tech's associate vice president of university relations.

"This shows us that the governor is supportive of the whole bioinformatics initiative," said Larry Hincker, Tech's associate vice president of university relations. Research at the institute will focus primarily on plant genetics. Scientists will use computers to store, retrieve and integrate vast amounts of genetic data and hope to use that information to develop everything from gene- based medicines to disease-resistant crops. Tech officials expect the institute to employ as many as 100 researchers, generate spin-off companies and lead to the creation of new degree programs at the university.

Tech already has received $11.6 million from the state's share of the national tobacco settlement to launch the institute. The university recently broke ground on a $6.2 million facility at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center that will serve as the institute's temporary home. University officials expect research revenues to pay for a $24 million building on the Tech campus that would open in the fall of 2003. Money from the bond package would help pay for a $21 million addition that would open in 2004.

The debt package proposed by Gilmore also would include $2.6 million to finance renovations to Radford University's Davis Hall and Porterfield Hall. In addition, the governor set aside $5.5 million to establish a maintenance reserve at Tech and $3.8 million for maintenance at Radford.

Gilmore said his plan would double funding for maintenance and repairs at state colleges and universities and satisfy a demand heard frequently from presidents of those institutions.

"The people of Virginia own every brick and every column on every college campus in Virginia - and it is our obligation to maintain and improve these campuses for the next generation of Virginians," the governor said.

Gilmore defended his plan to finance the capital projects with debt and said the maneuver would not jeopardize the state's "coveted" bond rating.

"This administration has authorized only $600 million of debt during its first three years, which is less than half the debt authorized in any of the three previous administrations," Gilmore said.

Gilmore also proposed $51 million in new spending to cover certain operational costs, including $12.8 million for pay raises for faculty and administrators. Gilmore said the raises would "keep Virginia competitive in the hunt for the brightest and best professors to teach our students."

But the governor's proposal amounts to little more than half the amount recommended by the State Council of Higher Education, which called for $25.1 million in new spending to provide faculty a 4 percent pay raise. Gilmore's administration recently warned university presidents that a revenue shortfall might force them to trim their budgets. If legislators approve Gilmore's plan, universities would have to find money elsewhere in their budgets to fund the pay raises.

Published by Public Relations, December 16, 2000