Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

TOP STORY >>Projects still waits for funds as Pentagon budget stalls

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Nearly $10 million earmarked for the Jacksonville/Little Rock Air Force Base Joint Education Center, which seemed imminent as recently as Wednesday afternoon, is still on hold in the U.S. Senate, with the balance of the $37 billion Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill.

In all, passage of about $50 million in central Arkansas military construction has been delayed but not derailed by Senate Republicans, according to Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

The Jacksonville/Little Rock Air Force Base Joint Education Center is still likely to receive $9.8 million, base runway repair will likely receive another $9.8 million and the new Cabot National Guard Armory is still expected to receive $840,000, according to Lincoln.

The balance of the local money is intended for projects at Camp Robinson.

The Senate did pass Thursday the 2008 Defense Appropriations Act, including a military pay raise.

But not the 2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill, which emerged from the joint conference committee attached to the funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations, but Senate Republicans insisted on separating the military appropriation, Lincoln said.

“Late (Thursday), the Senate was unable to move forward to consider the full package,” Lincoln said. The Senate did approve the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations—passed this week by the House—in effect sending the military construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations back to the conference committee for approval.


NOT IN JEOPARDY

“The president has not indicated that he would veto the military- construction bill,” said a Lincoln spokesman. “Our Arkansas priorities in that bill are not in jeopardy.”

Lincoln said that it was unfortunate that on the eve of Veterans Day, Congress was unable to pass a bill expanding spending for veterans affairs and the military.

She said that 25 million Americans, including about 286,000 Arkansans, had served in the armed forces and characterized the care they require as “increasingly complex.”


FINGERS CROSSED

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed that it gets approved,” Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said Thursday. “It has some important funding for Arkansas, not only for the base but also for Camp Robinson,” Swaim said.

“I hope the problem is procedural, the runway work needs to be done and the Joint Education Center is important not only to the base but to the community.”

The bill includes the largest increase in the Veterans Affairs appropriations, Lincoln said.

Lincoln, Sen. Mark Pryor, Cong. Vic Snyder, Cong. Mike Ross and Cong. Marion Berry all have worked to ensure these Arkansas projects.


EDUCATION CENTER

Originally slated to be 80,000 square feet, inflation has reduced the facility to about 55,000 square feet with a price tag of about $15 million. Jacksonville has set aside $5 million from a dedicated tax passed by residents in 2003 to pay the city’s share of the cost.

Heightened security restrictions have limited civilian access to military bases, including the old, now inadequate facility on base.

The new one is planned to be “outside the wire” at the base, approximately at the intersection of Vandenberg and John Harden Drive. Arkansas State University will operate the new facility, providing a wider selection of academic programs to active duty and reserve military personnel, their dependents and interested civilians. Other Arkansas colleges and university systems would also have access to the courses and curriculum provided at this location.


RUNWAY REPAIR

The airfield, constructed in 1955, is in a state of deterioration, which could adversely affect combat readiness and may endanger aircrew lives and aircraft assets.  The funding allows the airfield to repair deteriorated runway and shoulder pavements, remove or eliminate airfield obstructions, replace runway lighting, and reorganize instrument guidance and navigation systems.


READINESS CENTER

A new National Guard center in Cabot will be about 30,000 square feet, which will include an assembly area, administrative office space, supply and storage areas, classrooms, kitchen, parking and a maintenance training bay. 

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams had hoped to announce Friday during a Veterans Day ceremony at Veterans Park that Congress had approved the $840,000 to begin work on an $8 million armory (now called a readiness center).

Instead, he told the group of about 50 that had gathered for the event that Cong. Marion Berry had assured him the funding to start the project had passed the House and that it should soon pass the Senate.

“We feel like we’ll break ground by this time next year,” the mayor said.


BRAC

No funding was earmarked but as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, Arkansas is slated to receive funding to modernize the aerospace ground equipment and engine facility at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Also in the bill is $1.9 million for an urban assault course at Camp Robinson, $5.5 million to protect from terrorists an ammunition-supply point on the camp and $18.4 million for a GED training facility sitting on 4.5 acres at Camp Robinson.
Locally, the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations included $1 million for the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, $1.4 million for a new Thyroid Diagnostic Center and other programs at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.


DEFENSE BILL

Congress Thursday finalized FY2008 Department of Defense Appropriations Act with funding for several projects critical to Arkansas’ military installations, research institutions and defense contractors, according to members of the Arkansas delegation. 

The members of the delegation said they are pleased the bill includes a 3.5 percent pay raise for military personnel, an additional $70 million to better meet the medical needs of wounded service members, $11.6 billion for body armor and mine-resistant vehicles, $980 million to equip the National Guard and Reserve forces and $2.6 billion to provide military families with the immediate need for more counselors, teachers and child care providers.

The House of Representatives passed the final version of the legislation Thursday.  Following Senate passage expected this week, the legislation will head to the president for his signature.


LOCAL MONEY

Locally, this bill included $2.5 million for Camp Robinson, for meteorological information to help munitions accurately and precisely hit their targets, $1.2 million to develop “a combination of nanostructures and electrical charges” to safely retrofit aircraft with a deicing mechanisms and $1.6 million for the surgical wound disinfection and biological agents — $1.6 million for Exoxemis, Inc. to research and test wound and surgical site decontamination to prevent infection.

“Arkansas’ military installations and defense industry continue to contribute significantly to our nation’s security,” said Pryor. 

“Every day thousands of Arkansas men and women in uniform courageously serve in combat zones, while many more here at home find innovative ways to make our troops safer and more effective.  These projects are wise investments that will ensure our servicemen and women have the very best resources they need in order to accomplish their mission,” he said.
“Our troops and families deserve this strong bipartisan vote for this important defense funding,” said Snyder.