Instead, roofer Harold Oakley stood outside a gas station down a rural road from his home and saw something else as the source of his economic pain: oil and gas prices. The cost of the petroleum-based shingles he uses has doubled in four years, and customers don’t make many home improvements when they’re scrimping to pay for fuel. “When the gas goes up, the work stops,” said Oakley, 61.
The differences in the outlooks of the two places in many ways come down to federal money. In 2010, Washington spent $24,440 per person in Portsmouth, according to the latest government tally. The figure for Hanover: $8,990.
Virginia receives an outsize share of federal spending because of its constellation of military contractors and installations. But the commonwealth’s diverse communities have not benefited evenly. Portsmouth and Hanover underscore that geographic divide.
Portsmouth is home to a major navy shipyard and medical center, and the Department of Defense is the top employer in this majority-African American city in Hampton Roads. Hanover is part of a more rural and suburban community where the top three employers are the School Board, a hospital chain and the Kings Dominion amusement park.
And although the communities are in adjacent congressional districts, they are represented by two men with sharply different views of the federal government.
Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott
, a Democrat whose district includes Portsmouth, blames tax breaks for undermining the nation’s budget and subjecting the country to “mindless, across-the-board” sequester cuts.
“No one is likely to come up with any alternative unless revenues are on the table,” Scott said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican who represents Hanover, has emphasized the need to cut spending and hold down taxes.
He declined to comment, but at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, he cast the debate in stark terms. “It’s hard to get anything done in Washington when common ground is held hostage by tax hikes,” he said. “Families having to give more and more money to the federal government means less freedom, plain and simple.”
Scott said the “only way out” of the sequester, given opposition to new revenue, is to come up with other cuts that aren’t mindless. Problem is, he said, “no one can put a list of $1.2 trillion cuts on the table they would want to be associated with.”
So the sequester is likely to stay in place, Scott said, which will hit Hampton Roads with roughly the same punch as came from the latest recession.