VA Lt. Gov. Race Turns Into Debate Over Opera House and Role of Government
Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, one of seven candidates for the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor in Virginia, hit back at one of his opponents who questioned his support for the $46 million taxpayer funded Hylton Performing Arts Center, replete with an 1,100 seat opera house. On Thursday, Breitbart News reported that Virginia Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, also a candidate for the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor, criticized Stewart for supporting the project funded mainly by the county government he heads.
In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News, Stewart confirmed that he voted in favor of providing more than $25 million of Prince William County funds for the Hylton Performing Arts Center in 2004. Stewart also confirmed that Breitbart News's earlier report that Prince William County was providing $400,000 annually to fund the center's operation were correct, though he pointed out that half of that amount was actually dedicated to debt service. As for the remaining $200,000 that goes to the operating expenses of the center annually, Stewart said "I am loathe to call it a deficit. It’s more like the cost of keeping it open."
At the time the Performing Arts Center agreement was signed in 2004, Stewart was a newly elected member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. His predecessor as Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, the elected office he now holds, signed the contractual agreement to build the facility later that year. "Don’t beat me up for a commitment my predecessor made," Stewart told Breitbart News.
According to Stewart, the Performing Arts Center was designed in the 1990s, and the initial resolution to support the project passed in 2000. "By the time I was elected Chairman [in 2006]," Stewart said, "this commitment was already in place. Once you sell bonds to finance a project like this you can’t back away from your commitment."
Stewart said that though he was elected to the Board in 2003, he did not begin to serve his term until January 2004. "There was a full vote of the Board [in 2004] and I voted yes [in support of funding the Performing Arts Center], but I want to be clear, this thing was already going forward. The vote in 2004 was merely a formality. The funding agreement was in place."
Stewart hit back at the political opponent who criticized his own support for the project. When the Performing Arts Center agreement was signed in 2004, Stewart said, "Scott Lingamfelter was not only a Virginia State Delegate representing part of Prince William County, he was instrumental in securing the state funding necessary to build the Hylton Performing Arts Center in the first place."
Breitbart News asked Delegate Lingamfelter to respond to Stewart's charge, but had not received a response by the time of this story's publication.
"The reason this [agreement] was done is because George Mason University wanted to expand its campus. As part of agreement to expand, they wanted a Performing Arts Center," Stewart said. Prince William County was competing against nearby Loudon County to land the new George Mason University campus, and, according to Stewart, this played a role in his decision to support the project.
According to Stewart, the Commonwealth of Virginia and a private party also provided funding for the Performing Arts Center. Breitbart News has not yet confirmed the details of this support.
"It was estimated at the time this would lead to $70 million of economic growth," Stewart said, citing a feasibility study that was done in 2004.
At least one local tax watchdog group has concluded that this promised economic growth has not materialized.
Stewart added that the Performing Arts Center "was never meant to make a profit. It probably always will require government funding for its operating budget." The local community benefits from the center, he noted. "All the high schools have access to that center. It only makes sense the county pays for part of the operating cost."
Stewart defended his role as Chairman of the Prince William Board of Supervisors. "My record is focused on transportation, education, and public safety," which he called the core functions of county government.
The government should never operate any facility the private sector can build and operate, Stewart said. "Would the Performing Arts Center be able to open with only private funds? The answer is no. Would the Performing Arts Center be able to open without the county’s role? The answer is no," he added.
"Is this the core function of government? Absolutely not. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for parks, libraries, and performing arts centers" as functions properly undertaken by county governments, Stewart concluded.
The Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor in Virginia will be decided at a convention of several thousand delegates that will be held in Richmond on May 18.