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Connecticut delegation says base closing plan has no chance

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: theday.com

Published April 10. 2013 12:00PM   Updated April 11. 2013 12:07AM
Obama calls for new round of BRAC process

The president asked for a new round of base closings on Wednesday, but members of the state’s congressional delegation say the proposal will stall, just as it did last year.

“The reaction to this BRAC proposal will be the same as the last, it’s dead on arrival — end of story,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “There are less costly and more effective ways to achieve savings in the defense budget.”

The idea of starting a round of the Base Closure and Realignment process, or BRAC, in 2015, to consolidate infrastructure, said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, will be met with “a high wall of resistance when the committees get their arms around it.”

And U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said it’s unlikely the proposal will ever survive Congress, “where Congressman Courtney, myself, and Senator Blumenthal will stop it in its tracks.”

Nevertheless, the group that fought to keep the Naval Submarine Base open in 2005 is mobilizing.

The fiscal 2014 Department of Defense budget request, released Wednesday, includes $2.4 billion to fund a 2015 BRAC, which means it’s a serious request, said Bob Ross, executive director of the state’s Office of Military Affairs.

Last year, the administration asked for new rounds of base closures in 2013 and 2015 but did not set aside any money for the upfront costs. Congress denied the request.

Ross said he spoke with Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger after he heard the news about the 2014 budget. Ross said there’s no reason to rush or panic, but the Subase Coalition will meet sometime in the near future to get organized.

“All of the things we’ve been doing in Connecticut has got us pretty well-positioned,” Ross said. “Even if they do a 2015 BRAC, the closures won’t happen until 2016, so we’ve got a little time.”

The state set aside $40 million for the Naval Submarine Base and has been investing in infrastructure improvements at the installation.

At a hearing three weeks ago, Courtney said the under secretary of defense for installations and environment broached the BRAC subject and there was “universal protest and objections” by members of both parties.

Courtney said that while BRAC has been touted as a way to reduce the budget, as the Budget Control Act requires, the Defense Department would have to spend money to close bases and would not begin to see any savings for many years.

The House will vote on its version of the defense spending bill, most likely in June.

“I think I can say with ironclad certainty there won’t be BRAC language in that bill when it leaves the House,” Courtney said.

“The mood is the same because the merits are unchanged,” Blumenthal added. “BRAC is a money loser and risk creator, involving waste of taxpayer dollars and the potential closure of vital base resources.”

The proposed budget does support keeping the two major submarine programs at Electric Boat on track. The request includes $5.4 billion for two Virginia-class subs and advance procurement funding for the two ships planned in 2015, and about $1 billion to continue work on the design of a new class of ballistic-missile submarines.

Blumenthal, Courtney and Murphy each said they were pleased the budget recognizes that the submarines made in Connecticut are crucial to the defense strategy.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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