Warning of cuts to the nation's domestic budget by the Bush administration Tuesday, Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) told the Arlington County Board it should expect to see the dissolution of federal money from Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Domestic spending as a whole, he said, will diminish in a wave of cuts after the final approval of the president’s proposed budget.
“This Congress is very reluctant to say no,” said Moran. “They’ll delay it but if it’s something the White House wants, they’ll vote to approve it.”
Created under president Richard Nixon, the CDBG initiative brought a variety of domestic federal grants into one program. Municipalities use CDBG money to pay for everything from sidewalk improvements to public housing.
“It’s so flexible,” Moran said. “If there's any one program that’s caught the eyes of every jurisdiction in the country, it’s that.”
Like many other domestic items, Moran said CDBG will be on the chopping block.
“There’s no question that they intend to eliminate it,” Moran said. “I’m not optimistic we’re going to be able to save it.”
Moran’s cautionary words came during a work session with the County Board.
Along with the potential loss of federal grants, Moran said Arlington could face a serious fiscal crisis in the future if the Department of Defense pushes ahead with instituting new security standards for its office buildings. The Defense Department leases or owns most of the space leased by the federal government in Arlington. According to Moran, the new standards like one that requires defense facilities to be built at least 48 feet from public streets could become a significant economic threat to Arlington, which now houses many defense agencies in mixed use building accessible from the sidewalk.
“The business community and others are on our side in the illogic of these standards,” Moran said. “It’s a terrible use of land. The onus is on us to create a solution.”
County Board member Barbara Favola said the Northern Virginia Regional Commission is now conducting a study to determine the possible economic impact of the new regulations. Arlington, she said, would be the most severely hit. County officials are now trying to begin talks with the Defense Department to prevent that from happening.
“It could be devastating,” Moran said. “Yet we can’t get much concern from the Defense Department or the federal government.”
On the regulations, Moran was critical of Sen. John Warner (R-VA).
“My main concern is Senator Warner,” he said. “Warner is not as engaged in this issue as he needs to be. I don’t know that he grasps the firm nature of it.”
Moran added that the solution may come through closer talks with the Defense Department, which has shown little interest in the issue.
The meeting gave board members a chance to talk with Moran on local issues.
Favola called on the congressman to organize another round of talks with officials of the National Parks Service on the long-awaited construction of a public rowing facility on the Potomac River.
“We’re having trouble explaining the various levels of detail to the
Parks Service,”Favola said.
Moran said negotiations with the Parks Service to build the facility--a dock for row boats and local crew teams--and create easier access to the Potomac will continue. The Parks Service, he added, agreed to grant the county’s request after it assumed control of Arlington's shores almost 50 years ago. Moran gained $1 million in federal transportation funding to build a pedestrian bridge over the George Washington Memorial Parkway to make the rowing facility accessible from Arlington’s streets. According to the Parks Service, the most likely site for the project is on the shores near the Roosvelt Bridge.
On the county’s transportation needs, Moran once again said a dedicated source of funding for the Metrorail system is vital to Arlington’s future, and the federal government, he said, should be a significant partner in achieving it. More attention should also be paid, he said, to congestion on local highways that are in need of improvement.
“Arlington County is paying the cost of not having adequate roads to the west with what’s happening on I-66,” he said.
An issue closely tied to transportation, according to County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, is the rapid influx of people moving to Northern Virginia.
Estimates from Reality Check, a conference of regional leaders on population growth, Fisette said, state that Northern Virginia will be home to 2 million more people during the next 25 years. Finding room for them, he said, is the problem.
“The people and the jobs are coming,” Fisette said. “You can’t say don’t let them come. We need to get our act together.”
Moran said population growth poses a challenge not only to the transit system, but also to its urban planners. To keep housing affordable in the region, Moran said, high-rises must be built around Metro stations for commuters.
“We’ve got to go up if we’re going to give people an affordable place to live,” Moran said. “We’ve got to create affordable housing.”