‘Fiscal cliff’ a danger to Arizona defense industry, bases

By Rebekah L. Sanders The Republic | azcentral.com Sat Dec 29, 2012 1:05 AM
    If Congress fails to strike a deal on the “fiscal cliff” before the new year, a “meat ax” could clobber Arizona’s military bases and defense industry, several of the state’s representatives in Washington warn.   Deep cuts in federal defense spending, triggered after Dec. 31 unless Congress comes up with another plan in the waning hours of 2012, could result in Arizona suffering thousands of layoffs and losing billions of dollars, military advocates say.   Arizona’s economy depends heavily on the defense industry. The state has four major military installations and a robust network of defense contractors employing thousands of Arizonans.   Even the signature F-35 fighter-jet program, the linchpin to the survival of Luke Air Force Base in the West Valley, could be in jeopardy, some observers believe.   As the window for action quickly narrows, several of Arizona’s congressmen are pressing to cancel the cuts and take a surgical approach next year to reducing the size of the Defense Department. That’s despite ongoing disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over how to deal with the nation’s debt following the recession, heightened after the 2010 “tea party” freshman class took office demanding major cuts to government spending.   U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, a Tucson Democrat who represents Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson and Fort Huachuca Army Base near Sierra Vista, said Congress must not allow the roughly $500 billion in military “sequestration” over a decade to occur.   “A cut of that magnitude would have a devastating impact on our military,” Barber said, describing the plan as taking a “hammer or meat ax” to federal budgets. “It (requires) a more exacting approach. … We need more time. We’ve had a lot of time, but we haven’t gotten down to serious business. Now, we need to.”   Not all in Arizona’s delegation oppose the cuts.   Rep. Paul Gosar, a Prescott Republican, supports wielding the hatchet, he said in a recent opinion piece inThe Arizona Republic. That’s despite the fact his new district includes the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station.   “To say that our defense budget cannot take a 7.5 percent cut, or that non-defense programs can’t take an 8.4 percent haircut, is simply not realistic,” Gosar wrote.   Rep. David Schweikert, a Republican whose northeast Valley district includes the major defense employer Honeywell Aerospace, said through a spokeswoman that reducing federal spending must take priority.   “He isn’t a fan of the sequestration. It’s not good policy, and it was something the House worked to avoid by passing budget after budget (that never made it through the Senate),” spokeswoman Rachel Semmel said. “(But) David has always said sequester is better than no sequester.”   However, outgoing Rep. Ben Quayle blasted his fellow Republican freshmen, Gosar and Schweikert, for their stances, in particular Schweikert, who beat Quayle in a nasty primary election this summer.   Schweikert was the only Republican in Arizona’s delegation to vote against a House bill more than a week ago that would have canceled the military-sequestration cuts.   The state’s Democrats, including Barber, opposed the bill because it gouged domestic programs, like school lunches and children’s health insurance, to make up for the cuts taken away from the military.   “Any Arizona representative who voted against that reconciliation bill has to answer to a lot of their constituents,” Quayle said, “because … it’s going to cost Arizona jobs.”   Schweikert voted no, Semmel said, believing the bill was a “cover” for House Speaker John Boehner’s subsequent legislation to raise taxes on millionaires, which Schweikert and other Republicans opposed, causing House leaders to abandon a floor vote on the measure.   Rep. Trent Franks, who represents Luke Air Force Base, did not respond to a request for comment.   It’s impossible to know precisely the outcome of military cuts on Arizona because sequestration mandates a one-size-fits-all cut to everything except the level of military personnel, instead of specifying programs to eliminate.   Some Arizona defense contractors could be insulated by multiyear contracts to tide them over while Congress seeks a better solution or by diversifying their businesses in anticipation of reduced military spending.   Still, a new report by the Southwest Defense Alliance argues that the effect on Arizona would be dire. The six-state military-advocacy group estimates Arizona would lose as many as 39,000 defense-related jobs, $1.6 billion in economic output and $600 million in personal earnings over eight years.   The group’s chairman, John Regni, a retired lieutenant general with 40 years in the Air Force, said lawmakers must work to avoid such consequences.   “An across-the-board budget whack without regard to the hard thinking of which pieces should be cut … it’s not a strategic plan,” Regni said.