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Cabinet Meets Community

Kaine, Cabinet Address Issues

Gov. Tim Kaine and his Cabinet members addressed Virginia’s top issues at a Cabinet meeting Monday, Nov. 28.

Kaine and his team talked about health, education and transportation at Northern Virginia Community College in Sterling.

The meeting was part of the Northern Virginia Cabinet Community Working Day, the fourth in a series. A Cabinet Community Working Day is an opportunity for the governor and his team to get out into Virginia communities and shed light on what they are working on to improve the quality of life for Virginia residents.

Students, faculty and neighbors filed into the school’s Waddell Theater.

The two-hour meeting briefed constituents on transportation projects, health-care initiatives and educational opportunities at the community college level.

Northern Virginia Community College president Robert Templin welcomed the Richmond-based crew to the Loudoun campus.

SECRETARY OF EDUCATION Thomas Morris said he believes Virginia’s college system is one of the strongest in the country. The state is home to 23 community colleges and 40 community college campuses.

"Every Virginia resident lives at least 40 miles from a community college campus," he said. "Community colleges are across the commonwealth."

While there are 40 campus across the state, competition is between students to get classes is tough, since anyone is eligible to enroll in community college programs.

Morris described what it’s like to enroll for classes at local community colleges. Morris said students refer to the process as a "shoot out."

For example, NVCC students wait up until midnight, the night before classes open, to pick and choose which ones they will take for the next semester. If they don’t enroll at midnight, classes will be filled by morning.

"We need more facilities, particularly in urban area," Morris said.

The students are not only recent high-school graduates, but mothers, neighbors, teachers and friends, Kaine said.

The governor said the majority of students at the schools already have a bachelor’s degree.

"This is the community’s college," Templin said.

SECRETARY OF HEALTH and Human Services Marilyn Tavenner addressed another major issue concerning residents: health care.

The secretary talked about the Health Reform Commission, which she started with six goals in mind.

First, Tavenner said she is working on obtaining better health technology equipment. She is also working on a mental health care transformation, particularly focusing on community placement of mental health patients and better outpatient treatment.

The secretary said she will take a closer look at workforce needs, such as nursing support staff, in urban and rural areas.

Tavenner said she wants to make sure her constituents have access to free clinics, as well as long-term care.

Since there is a shortage of nurses and health-care workers in Virginia, she and Morris are working together to make it easier for people to receive degrees in health care, through online course work.

THE CABINET saved the biggest topic on hand for last. Secretary of Transportation Pierce R. Homer gave constituents an overview of the traffic problems and transportation projects in the works.

Homer began his presentation with a few maps of roads in Northern Virginia. Red lines indicated large amounts of traffic during peak travel times.

The secretary highlighted two projects that might help alleviate the traffic problem in the area, the Dulles Metrorail extension and the improvement of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on toll roads.

"The Metrorail system is the backbone of transportation through the region," he said. The secretary said his team just made improvements to the plan last week and is working on a final design plan to put into action.

Homer wants to improve HOV lanes on toll roads so more people will carpool. In his plan, those people traveling in a car with two or more people won’t have to pay a toll. Those traveling with excess room will have to pay a toll according to the amount of seats unoccupied.

The transportation office is working on the $676 million Springfield Interchange project, the $2.4 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge project, widening Interstate 66, a $44 million project, and widening Route 29 in Gainesville.

NVCC was the first stop on Kaine’s long agenda. After the Cabinet meeting, the governor and Cabinet members continued on to Reston, Herndon, Arlington and Springfield to talk about the same issues concerning residents there.

Kaine and other officials stuck around the halls of the Waddell Building to answer residents' and students' questions.