Council created to fight any Joint Base closing

The possibility of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst being considered for cuts or closure won't come up until 2017. But state officials aren't waiting around.
The possibility of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst being considered for cuts or closure won't come up until 2017. But state officials aren't waiting around. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 04, 2014

The possibility of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst's being considered for cuts or closure won't come up until 2017.

But New Jersey's elected officials aren't taking any chances. They're already working to keep it here.

The fiscal 2015 budget, signed Monday by Gov. Christie, includes $200,000 for the Council on Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs, a body of state officials and citizens who will fight any efforts to close the base and other military installations.

The latest move follows the formation in May of a separate group, the New Jersey Military Installation Growth and Development Task Force - chaired by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno - to draft strategies for inoculating military sites from the budget ax.

McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst has survived five rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) - the federal process used to prune the Defense Department. It's likely to face a sixth, since the Defense Department has asked Congress to approve the formation of a BRAC commission in three years.

The council was formed to "work with the public and private sectors to maximize the quality of life for all military personnel and their dependents, and increase public awareness of military missions performed in New Jersey and the economic impact they have on the state and its citizens." It also will "work with state and local governments to improve the effectiveness of military installations."

The Joint Base "is critical to communities, families, and businesses," said Sen. Diane Allen (R., Burlington), a council member who introduced a budget resolution to fund the body's efforts. "This funding is integral to making sure we do everything possible to keep the base open for our residents and thousands of our bravest men and women who sacrifice so much to protect us."

"There are 35,000 of our neighbors and friends employed at the base who carry the weight of American freedom and democracy on their backs," Allen said. "They shouldn't spend any of the precious moments they have with their families worrying about this threatened closure."

The base contributes $7 billion each year to the state's economy, according to a Rutgers University study. It also supports 65,000 off-base jobs.

To drive home those points, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) visited Wrightstown, next to the base gate, Wednesday afternoon to meet with state and local officials and business leaders to discuss the funding of the council and the base's importance to the state.

"It is vital to ensure that our military bases get the funding they deserve," Sweeney said. "This is not just some budgetary appropriation."

"This is about our safety and it is about people," he said. "These bases are the second-largest employer in the state of New Jersey, so we must make sure they remain a priority."

Lawmakers in both parties have praised the council's funding.

"This was an extremely tough budget year, and some items in the budget that the Legislature approved were reduced or eliminated by Gov. Christie using his line-item veto power," said Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R., Burlington). "The fact that this funding has remained in the budget should serve as proof to anyone watching that New Jersey will be prepared to fight for the future of our military bases."

State Sen. Jim Beach (D., Camden), chairman of the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, called the base "a major economic driver for the region."

"Any reduction in operations would have a devastating effect on the surrounding communities that rely on it for their survival," he said.


ecolimore@phillynews.com

856-779-3833

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