Saving Bases and Saving Jobs
By Senator Craig Estes
In 1988 the United States Congress created the Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process to handle the highly sensitive task of choosing military bases for closures or reductions. Over the previous decade, several states, including Texas, have seen their military installations eliminated or operations reduced. The painful reality is that base closures result in lost jobs and decreased investment and can have a devastating effect on communities who depend on military spending for their livelihood.
The next round of BRAC will be in 2005 when the Department of Defense will review bases and operations to see if they match projected threat assessments and support needs of the U.S. military forces for the next 20 years. In response to the Pentagon's new vision of a smaller, leaner, yet more effective military, the Department of Defense projects that the next round of BRAC could result in the closing of up to 25 percent of current military bases that do not fit with new military planning.
Texas is particularly vulnerable to the BRAC due to our large number of military installations and their significant contributions to our state and local economies. Texas has 18 major bases employing more than 200,000 people contributing an estimated $44 billion annually to our state's economy. Here in our part of Texas we depend heavily on Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls and Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene as major employers. Together, these two bases have a combined economic impact of nearly $1 billion.
The BRAC is designed to be a non-political process so that all military bases and operations are reviewed equally and without prejudice. Even with a Texan in the White House, Texas will not be immune to the next round of base closures. Friends in high places can only help us so much. Eventually, Texans all need to work together to maintain our bases and our defense related economy. As Vice Chairman of the Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee and a member of the BRAC Working Group, I am working with colleagues, community leaders, military officials and members of our Congressional delegation to make sure North Texas has the resources needed to convince the Department of Defense to maintain our military installations.
To face this challenge the Texas Legislature enacted legislation to demonstrate our state's commitment to our nation's military needs and to affirm our strong desire in hosting America's military forces. The Legislature has directed the Military Preparedness Commission to provide assistance to defense related communities to help them meet the military's needs. The military includes in their evaluations not just the operations on the bases being reviewed but the community's qualities, amenities and other non-military factors.
The BRAC has established guidelines to help define a community's military value and the U.S. Congress has directed that these guidelines be a primary factor when recommending closures and realignments. Clearly, our goal is to create every advantage to increase our chances to avoid major base closures or reductions in operations.
To help local communities finance military improvement projects, the Legislature has created a $250 million fund to be financed by the sale of general obligation bonds. To make this fund a reality, voters will need to approve Proposition 20 on the September 13 Constitutional Amendments Election. If Texas voters approve Proposition 20 we will send a clear signal to the Pentagon that Texas is still a preferred home to our nation's military and a cooperative partner in helping the military meet its needs. The word in Washington is to do more with less and the states hosting military bases are expected to contribute more. Other states with a primary interest in saving their military bases and protecting their defense related communities have already started funding local improvement projects. Texas cannot afford to fall further behind; we must pass Proposition 20.
However, the goal is not just to limit the loss of a military base or the reduction of operations. The goal is also to take advantage of the fact that when the Pentagon closes a base in one area, the surviving military units or operations need a new home. The purpose of realignment is to consolidate military units and operations to save money and increase military efficiencies. Therefore, while some bases will be eliminated, other bases could actually see an increase in their military presence and operations.
To put it simply, Proposition 20 is designed to save jobs and protect our defense related economy from base closures or realignment of existing operations. Saving and creating jobs is our number one priority. Please vote Yes on Proposition 20 during the September 13 Constitutional Amendments Election.
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