Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

TOP STORY >>Lincoln hopes for base funding

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

She has high hopes for funding both the Joint Education Center and runway repairs—each to the tune of about $9.8 million—in a veto-proof military-construction budget before adjourning for the holidays, Sen. Blanche Lincoln said Tuesday at a meeting of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council.

Lincoln said she expected the military-construction budget to be bunched with other budget bills coming out of the Joint Conference Committee.

Previously, the proposed $37 billion military construction and veterans affairs budget seemed headed for approval, attached to funding for the departments of labor, health and human services and education. It also included $840,000 for a new National Guard Armory at Cabot.

Originally slated to be 80,000 square feet, inflation has reduced the center to about 55,000 square feet with a price tag near $15 million.

Jacksonville has set aside $5 million from a dedicated tax passed by residents in 2003 to pay for its share.


NEW SCHOOL NEEDED

After Lincoln spoke, Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz challenged members of the community council to press the Pulaski County Special School District to make the building of a new school for the combined enrollment of students at Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools a high priority.

The base has promised to lease land for a new building outside the airbase gates for $1 a year if PCSSD would build a new school. It’s currently on the 10-year facilities master plan for comple tion in 2014, but Schatz said it should be moved up in the schedule.

“I’ll talk to the school board,” Schatz said. “Whatever is needed.”

As a school in need of replacement not only in the district but also in the needy Jacksonville area, Arnold Drive Elementary is in competition for funding with the Jacksonville middle school.

Schatz also asked community council members to make a goal of raising the level of performance of area schools.
“It’s good for the future of the base and of the community,” he said.


LINCOLN IN IRAQ

Lincoln told the community council of her recent visit to Ramadi, Iraq, with Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware.

While they traveled to the region by commercial airlines, they flew in a C-130 to Baghdad, with crews which had trained at Little Rock Air Force Base.

She said that she initially supported President Bush in pursuing the war, but now the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Malik has failed to meet benchmarks and guidelines.

“‘They’ve not shown the determination or the will,” she said.

She told of going to an economic development meeting in Ramadi, where a large group of 300 leaders including sheiks met with U.S. generals and other brass. Lincoln, the only woman there, hung back, she said, until Gen. Allen invited her to the head table.

“They need to see that you are at the table,” the general told her. “Sunni, Shia, women, children—they all need to be at the table.”

Lincoln said the local sheiks had permitted and encouraged the young men of their clans to join the local police and army. She said the Iraqis are looking to the U.S. military leaders for help and guidance. “Iraqis want to rebuild. They want security and they look to the army soldiers.”