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Waynesboro played by the rules with the Northrop Grumman deal: Need to change the rules

Chris Graham
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There was a brief spate of protest activity from local progressive liberals related to the deal announced by the City of Waynesboro and Northrop Grumman back in November, focused on Northrop Grumman being a military contractor – and wars being bad, and the rest.

Wars are bad; it’s also true that military spending isn’t entirely about starting wars.

Somebody has to do the heavy lifting to protecting liberal democracy; if, indeed, we’re still going to have a liberal democracy here with an election in a few months in which our commitment to liberal democracy is very much on the line.

I’m a progressive liberal, but I’m also a realist on this stuff.

I’m also a realist when it comes to the projected impact on the local economy of having a Northrop Grumman here.

It means jobs: the city and the contractor are projecting more than 300, at an average salary in the $90,000 range.

My progressive liberal fellow-travelers, in addition to the protest against a military contractor coming to town, also raise issue with: how many of those jobs will go to local residents?

My answer there: all of them.

I don’t subscribe to the backwards notion that people who live here in the Valley have had forever about there being some sort of line between from-heres and come-heres.

To me, once you move here, you’re local.

Hospitality in the Valley, you know.

That was what we tried to tell people they got when they came here.

We obviously didn’t really mean it.

OK, but there’s still a huge issue here, that for some reason my fellow progressive liberals aren’t seeing, because they’re focused on playing to type in being automatically anti-military, and anti-new people moving here and helping us make our community a better place to live.

Why do we just blindly accept that these kinds of deals are done behind closed doors?

Yes, technically, Waynesboro City Council had to vote to approve the project, but only because it involved, ahem, let’s call it creative financing, with the city allowing the $69.3 billion company to use the money that it would have had to pay the city in real-estate and property taxes toward its construction and development costs.

We’re also on the hook for more money from our tax coffers if Northrop Grumman meets certain, easily-achievable performance metrics.

That’s why there was a need for a vote.

The sum effect of what the City Council had to vote to approve: we’re giving a $69.3 billion company what amounts to being basically public welfare, which, you know, is bad, just plain bad, when we help kids in poverty to be able to eat three meals a day, or when we help people having trouble finding affordable housing.

Because those are handouts, right?

Pick yourself up by your own bootstraps, all that jazz.

But allowing a $69.3 billion company to skip out on its taxes, and then giving them more money if they simply grow the business they’re doing from this new local perch, which they should be trying to do anyway, that’s not a handout, somehow.

I see you.

I’m not saying here that I’m against doing business with Northrop Grumman even under those terms.

These kinds of sweetheart deals are what every community in every state in the Union are willing to do to get jobs into their local economies.

Credit to the multibillion-dollar companies for using their heft to create the patchwork system that allows them to leverage us against ourselves to their benefit.

They’ve bought and paid for, several times over, our elected representatives in our state capitals and in D.C. to create this system that gives them the power to print money.

We’re just pawns in a much bigger game that we will never win.

Sorry to drop that dose of reality on you there.

But maybe, just maybe, if we tilted the scales a little – not radically; they, and you know who they are, won’t allow anything radical here – we could level the playing field, slightly.

The comma before slightly is there intentionally.

It’s never going to be 50-50, or anything close.

But if we could amend our Freedom of Information laws at the state level, at the federal level, to require that these kinds of negotiations that currently go on behind closed doors have to be done out in the open, maybe we’d stand a fighting chance.

I mean, just for me, I want my tax dollars that go to public welfare to go to kids in poverty, to affordable housing, to universal healthcare, bah gawd – not to $69.3 billion companies.

They don’t need incentives to build their buildings, other than the incentive of, you know, making even more money.

This isn’t me trying to take the piss out of Waynesboro city leaders; they did business under the rules currently in place.

It’s absolutely the case that, if they’d insisted on doing business in public, Northrop Grumman wouldn’t return our emails.

I want the 300-plus jobs, and the 300-plus people who will fill them.

My thinking on this whole thing is, we’re going to get dozens of new people in our community who are well-educated, and will bring fresh perspectives on how things should be done.

They’ll volunteer on local non-profit boards, run for the School Board and City Council, will want to fund a school system that can educate their kids to get the kind of jobs they have.

But their company shouldn’t be getting a handout from us when we can’t afford to take care of the myriad problems with poverty, affordable housing and healthcare that are hurting people here right now.

That would be the way I’d vote if I was on City Council.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].