Military cuts avoided for now, but South Texas base task force isn’t resting

  By Mark Collette Posted January 2, 2013 at 5:40 p.m. View Article   CORPUS CHRISTI — South Texas business and political leaders continue a fairly quiet but steady campaign to protect area military installations, even as the Pentagon got a temporary reprieve from automatic spending cuts to start the new year.   The bill to avoid the fiscal cliff — the combination of tax increases and spending cuts seen as a threat to the U.S. economy — also carried a measure to delay sequestration, a series of defense budget cuts that would have slashed $500 billion over 10 years and could have resulted in furloughs for civilian employees in 2013.   Sequestration was delayed two months, setting the stage for more wrangling over a total of $1.2 trillion in defense and nondefense spending cuts as a new Congress takes office.   On Tuesday, Nueces County became the latest government to join the new iteration of the South Texas Military Facilities Task Force, with county commissioners approving a nine-month, $25,000 contract with the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce. The county joins other organizations, including the port, the city of Corpus Christi, the Regional Transportation Authority and several banks, each chipping in to support the effort led by the chamber.   The task force was shelved after the last round of U.S. base closures in 2005, but was jump-started again last year.   It spent the last six months learning about operations at three installations — the naval air stations in Corpus Christi and Kingsville, and Corpus Christi Army Depot — establishing relationships in Washington, and monitoring potential threats to the bases, chamber president Foster Edwards said.   The Army Depot alone, as the world’s largest military helicopter repair facility, accounts for about 6,000 jobs.   Edwards said no one is certain what the local impact of sequestration would be, because the Pentagon ultimately would decide where to cut roughly $53 billion per year, on top of cuts the military already is making as it scales down its war efforts.   Also unclear is when or how a new round of base realignment and closure, or BRAC, the Defense Department’s periodic reorganization of military bases, would affect South Texas.   The most frequently mentioned timetable is 2015, after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in August announced plans to put off domestic BRAC and instead close American bases in Europe.   Local military leaders say their bases have unique strengths, such as the Army depot helicopter work and wide-open coastal airspace that provides an ideal training ground for Navy pilots studying at the two air stations. But the task force has not been lulled into complacency, Edwards said.   “The people in the Pentagon and people in Congress don’t know about our unparalleled airspace,” he said. “So what you have to do is tell them. No one’s going to tell our story but us … You’ve got to be aggressive.”   The task force also is working with the city on a land use study aimed at reducing conflicts between development and military missions, and it has hired consultants here and in Washington to lobby on its behalf.   A recently released study by the Southwest Defense Alliance, a group advocating for the region’s military industrial complex, said sequestration could cost Texas more than 111,000 jobs and $6 billion in economic output through 2017.   That follows more than 135,000 job losses and $7 billion in economic activity from military cuts since 2009, the group reported.