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Thomas D. Elias: Upcoming base closures: Californians in Congress must pull together
It's almost impossible to get California's massive 53-member delegation in the House of Representatives to pull together on anything. They can't even agree that action is needed to alleviate the housing foreclosure crisis.
That makes it all the more urgent to let this corps of ideologues on the left and right know they must make an exception for the coming round of military base closures.
California still suffers heavily from the last two rounds of closings, which shuttered landmarks like Ft. Ord, the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, March Air Force Base, the Presidio of San Francisco and the El Toro Marine Air Station. Some closed bases have been converted at least partially to positive use, one good example being the campus of Cal State Monterey Bay rising on some of Ft. Ord's former turf, but there's been little progress on others.
Overall, there's no doubt about the huge negative effects of the closures, nor about the fact that California has taken more of a beating in base closings than any other state. The closings are the main reason federal per capita spending in California ranks 43rd among all states, getting back just 78 cents on every tax dollar residents send to Washington, D.C.
Now comes the certainty of another round of base closings atop those of the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, which did away with so many California fixtures.
It behooves every Californian in Congress to make certain that this state's interests are well represented on the reactivated Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) that undoubtedly will recommend which facilities the military should mothball or sell off in the next round. It would be a positive if they opted to vote against any plan that closes even one California base.
Reactivation of BRAC became all but certain the moment the Obama Administration pledged last month to cut $487 billion from military spending over the next five years.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, well aware of base closures after working from an office at Cal State Monterey Bay while out of office during the George W. Bush Administration, immediately pledged there would be no significant program cuts that might endanger the lives of soldiers and sailors. About the only other big-money areas that can be cut are military bases and new weaponry.
The last two times around, Californians in Congress overwhelmingly backed both creation of BRAC and its reauthorization. By doing this, they left themselves helpless to stop the massive hits California took, which saw the state slide fully 20 places in its rank among the states in federal spending.
That slippage occurred because the closures caused a large drop in the salaries paid to military and related personnel in California. The Pentagon spent just $10.3 billion on salaries in California in 2010, compared with $19.7 billion in Texas.
Can anyone doubt the extra $9.4 billion going into the Texas economy had a lot to do with that state weathering the Great Recession better than most others? Is there any doubt the loss of all those salaries contributed heavily to the drop in California housing values? Did having a former Texas governor in the White House during the last round of cuts have anything to do with that?
If nothing else, the huge California congressional delegation — which includes some of the most influential members of both parties — should insist the House and Senate get some control over who serves on the new BRAC commission.
Last time out, there was no Californian on the commission, and this state took by far the lion's share of cuts. That should never be allowed to happen again, and by dint of their sheer numbers, the Californians in Congress could assure it — if they work together.
The delegation should also insist that the new plan be presented on something other than the all-or-nothing basis which governed the last two rounds of closures, forcing all Congress members and senators to vote yes or no on the recommendations, with no options for any amendments.
Doing these things would mean working together for the good of California, and there's been no instance of that in recent history. This time it's absolutely essential.
Or else we could have a California with no Seabee base in Ventura County, no Camp Pendleton Marine base in San Diego County, no Travis Air Force Base near the East Bay area and no Lemoore Naval Air Station in the Central Valley. And as many as 120,000 related jobs dying out, just as happened before.
Losing any of these installations, or any more bases at all for that matter, can only worsen the California economy at the same time it substantially weakens the military's ability to reach out into the Pacific Rim. Both of which should be avoided at almost any cost.