Georgia pursues sequestration-proofing Robins legislation

mlee@macon.comFebruary 5, 2013 

ATLANTA -- Georgia legislators generally aim to protect economic powerhouse Robins Air Force Base from federal budget cuts, be it base closures or this year’s threatened sequestration budget cuts.

Easing professional licenses for military spouses, providing top-notch K-12 education statewide and approving budget appropriations for the base may all help.

The federal military budget will shrink by nearly $500 billion over a decade unless Congress acts by March 1 to avoid the cuts.

If the cuts come, no one yet knows where exactly they would fall.

But dodging this budget knife may be about the same dance as fulfilling U.S. Base Closure and Realignment Commission requirements for an efficient, advantageous base for the federal government.

“How (sequestration) gets down to our mission still would be based on how attractive we are for as many ... missions as (possible),” said House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire.

A proposed $10 million veterans training center, which would be built in Warner Robins, is the most ambitious new military-related item in the fiscal 2014 budget. There’s also a proposed $2.5 million worth of bonds to help buy property around the base that federal officials want cleared of homes. The Legislature will decide on both items in the coming months.

The just-published House Bill 188, by state Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, aims to make it easier for veterans to turn their military experience into the state licenses required for certain jobs such as electrical contractor or utility foreman.

The bill also would make military spouses’ professional licenses from other states more easily transferable into Georgia.

The 21st Century Partnership, the Warner Robins organization that promotes the base’s interests, already has been thinking how nice it would be to facilitate spouses moving their work.

“Those items that help first and foremost to take care of our military members and their families are absolutely critical,” said retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon, president and CEO of the partnership.

Another important point for the partnership -- changing the perception of Georgia’s educational system -- is harder to achieve in a single bill. But it’s important because it shows what Georgia can do for military youths.

“Those actions that the Legislature can take that help mitigate the perception that Georgia’s educational system is inferior to others will benefit both our military members and our installations, especially with the threat of another round of base closure and realignment,” McMahon said.

At least one of Georgia’s neighbors is doing something very coordinated about BRAC.

In 2011, Florida’s Legislature created a Defense Support Task Force and told it to come up with a united, proactive voice to improve, promote and defend the state’s bases.

One of that task force’s efforts was a $1.48 million study published last October that names every military facility and lists the upgrades each needs.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail her at mlee@macon.com

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