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Monday, September 1, 2014

Federal shutdown already taking toll on Charlottesville area

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Posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 7:57 pm | Updated: 12:21 pm, Wed Oct 2, 2013.

BY NATE DELESLINE III

ndelesline@dailyprogress.com | 978-7243

AND AARON RICHARDSON

arichardson@dailyprogress.com | 978-7263

 

Daybreak Tuesday brought federal government shutdown fallout to Central Virginia.

Congress failed late Monday to resolve a partisan impasse to keep the federal government fully funded and operational. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers deemed nonessential were sent home.

“This is not a good day for our country or for Virginia,” Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Virginia, said during a Tuesday afternoon conference call with reporters.

Less than 24 hours in, the shutdown already had begun to affect local businesses.

Erin Pothman, manager of the Which Wich sandwich shop in the Hollymead Town Center, said the shutdown had a noticeable effect on her business.

Around lunchtime, Pothman said, Which Wich usually fills up with workers from the National Ground Intelligence Center in northern Albemarle County.

“Normally we would be slammed right now,” Pothman said shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday. “A lot of times it will be really busy around lunch, and then it will just stop. Today, it ended about 30 or 45 minutes early, and was nowhere near as busy as we usually are.”

Across U.S. 29 at the Timberwood Grill, owner Steve Guiffre said his business had actually improved in the last two days.

“Yesterday we had a quite unusually busy Monday lunch, but today it seems to be back to normal,” Guiffre said. “I think if people only think it’s going to be for a week or so, it’s not going to affect us that much. If people think they’re going to miss a second paycheck, that might start to change things. Anything long-term cannot be positive.”

 

Park shuttered, sites offline

Shenandoah National Park, home to Skyline Drive, closed on Tuesday. Visitor facilities along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which begins at the southern end of Skyline Drive, also closed, although the highway itself remains open.

“The federal government shutdown is definitely not good news for the Charlottesville area,” Kurt Burkhart, executive director of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in an email.

“One of our major tourism assets, the Shenandoah National Park, is being impacted, and the timing could not be worse. Many travelers are getting ready to visit and admire the gorgeous fall foliage in the park.”

About 70,000 people visit the Blue Ridge Parkway each day in October, Steve Stinnett, the parkway’s chief ranger, said in a statement. Nationwide, the National Park Service stands to lose $450,000 a day in lost revenue from entry fees and in-park activities such as tours and camping.

Shenandoah National Park’s website was offline Tuesday. Visitors were greeted by a blank page with a plain text message:

“Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed and National Park Service web pages are not operating.” The blank page automatically redirected visitors to the Department of the Interior’s website.

Calls to the Federal Executive Institute on Emmet Street were directed to the office of communications at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Calls there were met with a message indicating that the office was closed due to a “lapse in appropriations.”

A similar message greeted callers to the public affairs office for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Virginia. But federal court cases were expected to go on as scheduled, according to a message posted on the court’s website.

Albemarle schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said school-sponsored trips to Washington and national parks may be canceled, although no decisions have been made yet. However, “there will be some cancelations if this standoff continues for more than a few days,” Giaramita said in an email.

 

Economic impact

Mary Margaret Frank, a professor at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, said the real-estate industry could take a hit with sales of moderate- to low-priced homes slowing as delays mount in processing government-backed mortgages, which homebuyers in that price range rely on.

“With regards to the shutdown, the depth of the impact largely depends on how long it lasts,” said Frank, who is teaching a cross-disciplinary course on the national debt. “While the shutdown could have a great short-term impact on some parts the state, the Charlottesville-area economy should not be as severely impacted.”

A larger issue, the debt ceiling fight, looms, Frank said.

“With a gross national debt nearing $17 trillion and projected by some to increase over 58 percent by 2025, students in my course are examining the economic and social impact of national debt on the society that they will inherit.”

 

Blame game

As quickly as the websites went dark and phones went unanswered, lawmakers were attempting to pin blame for the dysfunction on those across the aisle.

A small breakthrough seemed at hand late Tuesday, as the House was expected to pass three specific bills that immediately would end delayed veterans benefits, reopen the national parks and grant the District of Columbia the authority to use its own revenue to continue operations, said a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Rep. Eric I. Cantor.

At a Tuesday morning news conference, Cantor, a Republican who represents Virginia’s 7th District, said the House is ready to negotiate.

“I think it’s fair to say that none of us want to be in a shutdown and we’re here to say to Senate Democrats: Come and talk to us. This is how we resolve our differences and can work our way out of this kind of situation,” Cantor said.

Warner called House Republicans leading the shutdown charge “irresponsible.” He predicted that tea party-influenced Republicans would employ the same hard-line tactics on the debt ceiling fight in a few weeks.

“We in the House have been working diligently to offer proposals to fund the government in recent weeks,” Rep. Robert Hurt, R-5th, said in a statement. “Over that course of time, we have offered three proposals to fund the operations of the government and to embrace fiscal reform in Washington, and the Senate has refused to compromise or even negotiate.”

Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, blamed Republicans for the shutdown and called on Virginia politicians to condemn the action.

“The way I look at it is that you’ve got one faction of one party in one house holding up the government because they don’t agree with one piece of legislation,” he said. “If they want to have a debate on that, they should have a debate, but don’t put the economy at stake.”

Toscano criticized Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli for his political relationship with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who helped to lead the effort to block the health care act.

“Ken Cuccinelli now has an opportunity to stand up for Virginia citizens and condemn the tea party shutdown of the government, but instead, he is going to go off and have a fundraiser with one of the leaders of the shutdown, Ted Cruz,” he said.

Cruz is scheduled to appear at the Family Foundation Gala in Richmond this weekend. Cuccinelli also is slated to be in attendance at the dinner, which is not a campaign event.

“I think everyone is disappointed that President Obama and both parties in Congress have not been able to come together and work out the differences over this,” Virginia Republican Party spokesman Garren Shipley said.

Warner said he couldn’t speculate on when the standoff might end.

“My hope is it will [end] soon,” he said, “but I didn’t think we’d get to midnight [Monday] night with folks shutting down the government.”

 

Daily Progress staff writer J. Reynolds Hutchins contributed to this story.

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