Staunton River Battlefield State Park may be the latest casualty in the state’s ongoing battle to close a $2 billion budget shortfall. Governor Robert F. McDonnell sent a long list of budget cut proposals to the General Assembly on Wednesday, which included saving $1 million by closing five state parks.
In addition to Staunton River Battlefield, the governor also proposes closing False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach, Caledon in King George County, Mason Neck in Fairfax County, and Twin Lakes in Prince Edward County.
Former Delegate Ted Bennett, who was part of the founding of the park, said Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) built the welcome center and donated land, but it had no operational monies in the park.
The park’s organizers also got the Staunton River Bridge from Norfolk-Southern and purchased 180 acres of property on the Charlotte County side of the river, known as the “killing fields” where federal troops advanced from during the battle, Bennett explained.
On the Charlotte side a small welcome center was built, and the depot was renovated, and both welcome centers are largely staffed by volunteers.
“I just don’t see where we gain by closing state parks,” Bennett said. “I just don’t know where the savings are.
“The head count has been amazing,” he added, noting the head count is better at Staunton River than at a similar state park in the Roanoke area.
Speaking from his office in Richmond, Delegate James Edmunds II said he is working diligently trying to determine the terms of the initial agreement ODEC has with the state concerning the Battlefield State Park.
“I certainly support tourism as the governor does, and it’s proven that every dollar spent in tourism generates $5 back to the communities and state, so it’s difficult to justify closing something that’s making you money,” Edmunds added.
McDonnell said during a press conference Wednesday that the cuts were very difficult to propose.
“We face an historic budget shortfall in the commonwealth. I served in the House of Delegates for 14 years and as attorney general, and these budget decisions are among the toughest I have had to make in public service,” the governor said. “I know that state services to my fellow Virginians will be adversely affected in the short term. I have witnessed several budget sessions run long, devolving into unproductive fighting that leads to wasted taxpayer dollars and gridlock.
“And these budgets had issues that pale in comparison to the $4 billion deficit we must make up. We cannot allow that to happen this year. That is why for the past month I, along with my Secretary of Finance Ric Brown and other senior staff members, have been meeting with budget leaders from both parties to identify common ground in our shared goal of passing a balanced budget on time that does not include a tax increase.
“As this process has moved forward, I have awaited the release of today’s revenue projections prior to making public the cost savings strategies our administration is advancing. Now, I am committed to helping the legislature finalize adjustments to the budget,” McDonnell said Wednesday.
The new governor has consistently ruled out tax increases as a way to close the budget shortfall.
“The plan to close the remaining $2 billion through the imposition of a massive new tax increase on Virginians in the middle of a recession is one that was unanimously rejected by the House of Delegates,” McDonnell said. “Now, the legislature must identify the spending reductions that will enable us to balance the budget, while respecting the wallets of our hard-working citizens. In today’s letter I formally laid out a number of proposals to get the budget balanced. Many of these will not be easy. Most of them will require sacrifice. But by coming together to make these tough decisions today, we will position the commonwealth to be stronger as the economy recovers.”
McDonnell added there is some hope on the horizon with improved revenue projections for next year.
“I am pleased to report that the updated revenue numbers from the Department of Taxation project a slight increase in incoming revenue for the year ahead,” he said. “I have made a conservative estimate of increased revenue based on the new information. I will encourage the General Assembly to put this additional revenue towards K-12 public education, employee compensation or other core services.
“Finally, in the cost saving strategies recommended to the legislature, I am calling for a restoration of some of the proposed cuts to public safety and no further cuts to higher education. Tough times call for setting priorities. Public safety and higher education have been cut significantly in recent years and cannot sustain further reductions,” the governor concluded.