- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) Virginia is among the nation's leaders in per-capita spending on police and prisons, but it ranks last in support for parks and natural resources, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission was told yesterday.
According to a study by the commission's staff, Virginia ranked 36th nationally in per-capita state spending in 1999, the last year for which figures from all states were available from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Virginia, which abolished parole in 1994, ranked third in law enforcement and corrections spending.
The state's prison population has increased by 296 percent, to more than 33,000, since 1981, according to the report for the state watchdog agency.
For four consecutive years, 1996 through 1999, no state spent less than Virginia on parks and recreation, and protecting natural resources. Since 1981, the state's ranking in that category has been no higher than 40th.
"We knew it was really bad, but I didn't know we were last," Bruce Parker of Alexandria, state chairman of the Sierra Club, said in a telephone interview. "We've had a number of budget proposals and bills over the last number of years, but we can't get the legislature to listen to us."
Walt Smiley, the commission's fiscal analyst who led the study, said one possible explanation of why Virginia spends little on state parks is that it has two national forests and Shenandoah National Park.
"It doesn't mean citizens lack these opportunities. They're just being paid for by the federal government," Mr. Smiley said.
Mr. Parker said that might be a small factor, but he noted that other states also have national forests and national parks competing for visitors.
In other spending categories, Virginia ranked 15th in highway maintenance and construction, 27th in public education, 38th in health and welfare, and 32nd in government administration.
Mr. Smiley said one reason for the ranking in highway spending is that local governments pay for maintaining secondary highways in many states.


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