Rep. Forbes gets input from Hopewell, Prince George
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
May 20, 2014, 10:34
JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Hopewell Councilor Christina Luman-Bailey, right, asks Rep. J. Randy Forbes a question Thursday.
Rep. Randy Forbes made stops in Hopewell and Prince George on Thursday to meet with local leaders to discuss sequestration, budget cuts and the impact both are having on surrounding localities.
“We learn so much by just sitting down and listening and we try to do that across the board,” the Republican congressman said at the Prince George Library, his first stop. “We do it with business people, military people and we love to do it with our localities.”
For Prince George, the main concerns were centered around the potential closing of the commissary at Fort Lee and the impact aid program. School Board Chairman, Roger Franklin, Jr. shed light on the reason for the concern as he said one-third of the school’s population is military dependent.
“Everybody has suffered during this recent depression,” Franklin said. “The School Board finds itself having discussions about how to keep the doors open as much as we have discussions on how to improve the quality of education. The importance of an educated population in America cannot be underestimated. Democracy needs educated people.”
Perhaps one of the biggest causes for the decrease in impact aid over the course of the past few years, Forbes said, is sequestration. However, apart from an explanation, Forbes was not able to offer a defense as to why.
“I cannot offer you a defense for sequestration because I’ve always felt it was a ludicrous, stupid way to deal with government. I voted against it, I spoke against it, I fought against it. I just got beat.”
Chairman of the Board of Supervisors William Robertson Jr. told Forbes the cuts from sequestration will total over $1.1 million by 2021, with 5 percent being every year. He said that five percent will have a “detrimental effect” on Prince George, especially in the classrooms.
“We just can’t take five percent of the kids and say, ‘OK, we’re not going to school you,’” Robertson said.
For Forbes, one of the biggest concerns with sequestration, apart from the budget cuts, was the lack of predictability that now exists within the government on a federal level. He said an example of this can be the potential of the closing of commissaries.
Forbes said for every $1 that is invested in commissaries, $4 to $5 are given back. He also said commissaries hire the spouses of men and women who are in the military. Forbes said these cuts are being done without an analysis of the decision, often leading to negative effects.
A negative effect for Hopewell was the government shutdown last fall, with the impact being on City Point’s 400th anniversary celebration. Due to the government shutdown, Appomattox Manor, owned by Petersburg National Battlefield, could not be used for the event.
Councilor Christina Luman-Bailey inquired as to whether localities would be able to plan in advance should something like that happen in the future.
“I wish there was a way we could forecast when those things were going to happen,” Forbes said while standing in the auditorium of the Beacon Theatre on Thursday. “It’s not just when it shuts down, it’s this whole concept of sequestration, is having these arbitrary cuts that can have these similar kinds of impacts.”
In the future, and sooner rather than later, Forbes wants to see long-range planning restored in government, on a federal level.
“Today I just applaud when we have six-month planning,” Forbes said. “Literally so many things are done in knee jerk reactions and that is not only impacting localities who plan so hard to do these events but it’s impacting businesses.”
Forbes said for the first time in his lifetime, more businesses were shut down in the U.S. last year then opened their doors. He continued saying that is a problem that needs to be “turned around.”
“I’m hoping we’ll find a way to get more stability in government budgeting and that we don’t have these shutdowns,” Forbes said. “I know the harshness of it and I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
Sequestration is also having an impact on the amount of grants available from the federal government. Director of Intergovermental and Public Affairs Herbert Bragg told Forbes that come August of this year Hopewell will lose the federal government grant funding for the bus route, totaling $218,000.
“If we don’t get sequestration turned around it will impact grants and everything else that’s there,” Forbes said, also unable to offer any suggestions on grants that might be available. Hopewell City Council has put in their budget for next year to fund the bus route at $180,000.