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Museum execs fret over Gilmore's budget cuts. 

Cash Crunch

Virginia's budget impasse is delivering devastation on the state's museums: forcing layoffs, sacrificing local and federal matching funds and jeopardizing programs that help children prepare for the SOLs, museum officials say.

"I, for one, would gladly double my car tax," says Neal Gropen, whose Charlottesville company makes exhibits for museums, at a forum at the annual convention of the Virginia Association of Museums.

But, he adds, it "isn't clear to me what the car tax has to do with the state of Virginia indicating to the rest of the union what we believe a finer civilization to be and how we get there."

The connection is this: The General Assembly couldn't agree on how much to cut the car tax this year in light of unexpectedly low revenues, so legislators failed to pass revisions to the $48 billion, two-year budget.

That leaves the existing budget in place, which happens to contain no second-year funding for more than 200 arts and cultural organizations. Normally, legislators would add that money with budget revisions. But there were none this year because of the budget impasse, so all those organizations are out of luck.

At the convention, museum types brainstorm about how they might turn the situation around — publicizing the impact of their cuts, holding meetings with legislators, perhaps even storming the Capitol two blocks up the hill from the convention.

But Ken Schutz, director of the Science Museum of Western Virginia in Roanoke, sounds a cautious note.

"Being so visible in this political fray has a very strong downside to it," he says. "I would hope that we could help, but we need a plan that protects us from not being harmed if we do decide to help."

That remark gets to James City Republican Sen. Thomas K. Norment, a leader of the rebellion against the governor's plan to continue phasing out the car tax.

"There's something inherently wrong with the mission of government when someone stands up and says there's a political downside to speaking your conscience for fear of retribution," he says.

Lila White, spokeswoman for Gov. Jim Gilmore, comments afterward that both the House's and the governor's budgets found enough money to advance car-tax relief and fund cultural organizations.

"It's the senators themselves that have caused the problem," she
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