The $131.6 billion state spending plan slated for a floor vote today in the Ohio House includes $5 million aimed primarily at protecting Wright-Patterson Air Force Base if the feds kick off a new base realignment and closure commission.
The earmark, tucked into the massive state budget bill, reflects the importance the base and its 26,000 military and civilian employees have to the state’s livelihood.
Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, a former Air National Guard member, said he’d like to double the amount set aside to at least $10 million. The money could be spent on infrastructure at Wright-Patt and other Ohio bases, officials said. Installations like the Springfield Air National Guard base could gain from the earmark, officials indicated.
Texas, Alabama and Massachusetts all provide some state money for their federal military installations, officials said.
“This is sorely needed, especially when there are fiscal constraints on the federal level to support our military facilities,” said U.S. Rep Mike Turner, R-Dayton, in a statement.
He emphasized an urgent need for the legislation because federal rules prohibit states from spending more on base infrastructure during a BRAC process.
“It is a game that must be completed before BRAC commences and that’s why it’s so important that this be done now,” said Turner, chairman of the House Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee in Congress.
The $5 million would create an Ohio Military Facilities Commission, which which will work to protect Wright-Patt and the other bases if and when another BRAC happens. Though a BRAC has not yet been set, the federal government periodically looks for ways to save money, increase efficiency and strengthen national security through a formal BRAC process.
Talk of a BRAC puts officials across the state on edge because of the potential for the loss of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity.
The region caught a break after the last round of base realignment and closures in 2005, when Wright-Patterson gained 1,200 jobs with the relocation of the 711th Human Performance Wing and the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.
Rosenberger announced the legislation Tuesday at a press conference at the National Aviation Hall of Fame inside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson.
“At the end of the day, what this comes down to is about securing jobs and securing, really, America’s future because … Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is the pointy spear of our military,” Rosenberger said.
The Pentagon has asked for four consecutive years for a BRAC, but Congress has said no. Some analysts say opposition appears to have eased some in Congress, fueling speculation a BRAC could happen in 2017 or 2019. The Air Force has estimated it has 30 percent excess infrastructure.
The creation of the Ohio Military Facilities Commission is part of a broader strategy to retain and grow the 100,000 jobs and $10 billion economic impact federal agencies have in Ohio, said state Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield.
“This money is extremely important to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the larger Dayton community,” added state Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp. “It will help protect thousands of jobs should there be another BRAC.”
Dayton Development Coalition President and CEO Jeff Hoagland said the 2005 BRAC that relocated the 711th Human Performance Wing to Ohio from Texas led to Wright State University’s decision to break ground on a $37 million Neuroscience Engineering Collaboration Building, among other gains.
“The commission is another way to increase Ohio’s awareness of the opportunities that we have to benefit our bases, to protect our bases and to compete with the rest of the nation,” he said.
Budget bill runs 3,215 pages
The 3,215-page budget bill voted on by the House today includes more modest tax changes and a different K-12 funding plan than Gov. John Kasich proposed. The latest version of the bill will move onto the Ohio Senate for more changes and isn’t likely to be finalized and signed into law by Kasich until late June.
The state is expected to have a healthy surplus from the current fiscal year. House Republicans want to transfer $375 million of the surplus to the state’s rainy day fund, $100 million to the Straight A Fund, $15 million for student debt relief and $30 million for workforce development grants.
Staff writer Jeremy Kelley contributed to this report.