Sen. Kaine talks federal program cuts

Christine Patrick, owner of the Winchester Book Gallery, talks to U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine during his visit to the city's downtown on Friday. Alex Bridges/Daily

WINCHESTER – Many localities in the region would lose federal funding they use to boost their economies under budget cuts proposed by President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine said Friday.

Kaine,  the Democratic vice presidential candidate in the 2016 election, visited downtown Winchester and Harrisonburg, where he spoke to local merchants about the business climate and possible cuts to programs designed to help the local economy.

Kaine, who serves on the Senate Budget Committee, said the panel is grappling with Trump’s proposal to cut funding to the federal Community Development Block Grant program. Kaine recalled that Richmond used money from the program to spur projects in the city when he served as its mayor.

The senator said he’s concerned about three sources of funding in particular. The Economic Development Administration, funded through the Department of Commerce, could see a dramatic cut, Kaine said. Trump’s proposed budget eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program – used by many localities to improve streets and other parts of their infrastructure or for economic development. The proposal also slashes funding for several programs designed to help provide housing to low-income residents and fight homelessness.

“I’m on the budget committee so, between now and Sept. 30, we’ve got to battle about what the budget is,” Kaine said, adding that Trump’s proposal aims to cut funds for public school programs. “So, the purpose of these visits is, obviously I love Winchester, I love being outdoors on a beautiful day but the mayor and the economic development officials for the town, they can talk to me about what they’re doing but also what would be the effects if some of these budgetary programs were to be cut.”

Winchester Mayor J. David Smith walks with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine and city Councilman John Hill during the senator's downtown visit Friday. Alex Bridges/Daily

Trump’s proposed budget includes increased spending on defense, which Kaine called necessary.

“We don’t defend enough against cyber attacks,” Kaine said. “Obviously this whole investigation into what Russia did in the election is a cyber attack … We probably need to spend some more on shipbuilding.”

However, Trump’s proposal also includes deep cuts to agricultural programs, Kaine said.

“When you cut that much out of agriculture, you hurt (the) abilities of farmers to find markets for their products, for example,” Kaine said.

When asked if he felt such cuts to programs that help economic development were counter-intuitive to that goal, Kaine responded:

Charlie Fish, co-owner of Murphy Beverage Company in downtown Winchester, talks to U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine on Friday about her business and the state of the nation. Alex Bridges/Daily

“If you want to grow the economy, you’re gonna have to make investments,” Kaine said. “As an example, the president talked about the need to broaden education, to do more workforce training on crafts, trade, technical programs.

“Funding for job training and career and technical education is being slashed in this budget and that would not, in my view – it’s not good for people; it’s also not good for the economy,” Kaine added.

The city funded renovations to the walking mall with a mix of local dollars and money from the federal programs at risk from cuts, Kaine said.

The senator stopped in to about a half-dozen, long-established businesses on the pedestrian walking mall where he talked to owners about their experience downtown. Winchester Mayor J. David Smith, also a downtown business owner, and city Councilman John Hill flanked Kaine and the senator’s entourage.

“When we came here 14 years ago it was like a ghost town, so there were a lot of empty spaces,” Smith recalled.

Charlie Fish, co-owner of Murphy Beverage Company, said the downtown has improved greatly since the business moved to Loudoun Street and, more recently, with the renovation of the walking mall spearheaded in part by Smith. Kaine asked both proprietors about the mall’s business climate before the renovation.

Hill said Winchester officials are hoping the block grant program isn’t cut. Outcry from mayors and governors across the country from both parties over the proposed cut could help save the program, Kaine said.

Kaine campaigned with Hillary Clinton during her run for president. Voters in Winchester favored Clinton and Kaine while counties surrounding the city went with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Kaine pointed out that surrounding counties also could feel the effects of cuts to the same programs on the budget chopping block, Kaine said.

Smaller towns such as those in Shenandoah County along the way to Harrisonburg also would feel the impact of cuts to the federal programs, Kaine noted.

“Towns don’t necessarily get a lot of funds but the funds that they get end up being important to maintain the character,” Kaine said. “Virginia has so many beautiful small towns and to maintain their character, CDBG monies are used.”