Mayors appeal to lawmakers for help

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 29, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Top elected officials in Hampton Roads warned General Assembly members in a letter Friday to responsibly solve Virginia’s financial crisis, or risk losing military bases. The letter beseeches state lawmakers to &uot;support a budget that will protect Virginia’s bond rating and provide new revenues for education and other core services that define the qualities and standards important to our communities and military facilities.&uot;

&uot;We believe that investment is necessary for the state to be competitive,&uot; said Jeanne Zeidler, mayor of Williamsburg and chairwoman of the Hampton Roads Mayors and Chairs Caucus. The organization, which met Friday morning, is made up of the top elected officials from the 16 cities and counties in the Hampton Roads area.

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The letter from the caucus is being sent to every General Assembly member.

It echoes concerns raised recently by U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Gov. Mark R. Warner. Both men have said that the quality of life a state offers to military personnel will be a big factor as the Department of Defense looks into closing 25 percent of bases to save money.

We need to keep up to speed with quality of life, including transportation, education and health issues,&uot; said Suffolk Mayor E. Dana Dickens III. &uot;Economic growth and new jobs don’t just happen.

&uot;The letter is telling legislators that we need to reinvest in ourselves in order to prosper in the future. We want to show that we support the General Assembly doing whatever it takes to insure that proper investments are made.&uot;

Norfolk Mayor Paul D. Fraim agreed. &uot;It’s clear that we need more revenue to address quality of life issues,&uot; he said.

The base closing issue is of particular importance to southeastern Virginia, which is home to numerous military installations, including the world’s largest naval base. Annual defense spending in Virginia is estimated at more than $30 billion, including $10 billion in Hampton Roads.

The closure of any base in Hampton Roads would hit Suffolk – as well as the rest the region – hard, Dickens said.

&uot;There are a huge number of military folks living here, particularly in northern end of the city.&uot;

The Associated Press contributed to this story.