Leader Blues

Friday, January 26, 2007

TOP STORY >>Air base education center hits funding snag

IN SHORT: Military money for joint education center in front of LRAFB still awaits appropriation because Congress failed to pass a defense budget before it adjourned.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Because the Republican-dominated 109th Congress adjourned last year without approving the 2007 budget, $9.8 million earmarked for the Little Rock Air Force Base-Jacksonville joint education center is on hold and work cannot begin, according to Mike Wilson, a local attorney.

“The Congress has not yet enacted defense authorization bills, along with other major authorization bills,” Wilson said.
Normally, all appropriation bills are enacted and become effective Oct. 1, he said.

Meanwhile, the entire government is funded by operating on a continuing resolution.

Specifically, the last Congress never approved the military construction bill, said one man familiar with the process. It was authorized by Congress, but not appropriated.

“It has to be specifically appropriated,” he said.

Jacksonville’s $5 million share of a new, $15 million Community/Little Rock Air Force Base Education Center will be added to the Air Force’s $10 million share and the construction and expenditures will be overseen by representatives of the Secretary of Air Force and Mayor Tommy Swaim, once the authorization problem is resolved.

Wilson hopes construction of the approximately 80,000-squar-foot center—to be located on the base, but outside the fenced security perimeter—will begin this spring.

In 2003, Jacksonville voters overwhelmingly voted a two-year, one-penny sales tax to raise the city’s share of what was then thought to be a $10 million facility.

The education center already exists on the base, but access to it has become much more difficult for civilians in the wake of heightened security after Sept. 11, 2001.

The new education center, to be located near the intersection of Vandenberg Boulevard and John Harden, will be more accessible to civilians and airmen not living on the base.

It also affects many millions of dollars worth of BRAC construction earmarked for the base and bases across the country.
The current continuing resolution runs out in February, and it’s possible that when reenacted, language could be added to say “all things specifically authorized are deemed to be appropriated,” he added.

The “deeming” as it as known, would allow the military construction projects to move forward. Typically, they must be completed within five years of the authorization.

Passage of the 2007 appropriation bills is further complicated because of the new Democratic-controlled Congress.