Tensions rise over new round of defense cuts

Facing a weak economy and looming military cuts that potentially include new base closures, a push is under way to extol the benefits that defense spending and military installations provide to local economies in six states of the Southwest, including California.

A report by the Southwest Defense Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of defense and industry, reported that federal spending alone amounted to more than $705 billion during the five-year period ending in 2009 that directly or indirectly supported 2.8 million jobs across the Southwest. More than a third of those jobs, about a 1.1 million annually, are in California, while Texas has 946,000.

“They also increased regional economic output by $1.5 trillion cumulatively over the five years and increased regional personal earnings by $461 billion,” according to the study by the San Diego-based group, which said the figures “reflect the most consistent recent information across all data sources.”

The Alliance’s report looked at federal spending impacts in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.

Across the states, there is a major federal presence that includes 121 major installations of the Defense Department, some 266 health care and service facilities of the Veterans Affairs Department and five national laboratories of the Department of Energy, including two in New Mexico. In 2009 alone, the three agencies accounted for $150 billion for pay, contracts, pensions, education, weapons-related activities, construction and the like.

Nevada has the highest percentage of Veterans Administration dollars than any other state, about 20 percent of its federal expenditures.

Despite the enormous investments, danger looms, at least in part, from an unexpected source — local communities’ land-use decisions, says former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who serves as honorary chairman of the Alliance’s board.

The “future is in doubt as communities in the Southwest continue to face pressures to develop and expand. Local land-use decisions could seriously undermine the critical role these military bases and training facilities play…,” Wilson wrote in a preface to the study, which does not deal with land-use issues. “In a time of increasingly intense competition for federal dollars for other purposes, Southwestern communities must bear in mind the need to maintain investments in this critical national defense infrastructure.”

Others on the board include former Republican state lawmaker and judge Larry Stirling, several retired military officers and Jon McQuiston, a Kern County supervisor.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission is expected to consider new cuts in 2013 and 2015, although member of both parties in Congress are opposing the reductions, part of President Obama’s proposal to cut defense spending by $487 billion.

The last round of BRAC-ordered closures was in 2005. California is expected to be hit especially hard in any new round of closures, as is Florida, according to published reports.

Defense cuts invariably anger members of Congress who have military installations in their districts.

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