Sen. Kirk, at Scott AFB: 'Military mission in Illinois is a top priority for me'
BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk met Sunday afternoon with members of the Scott Air Force Base Task Force in Collinsville to talk about the future of the base in the face of future base closures.
Kirk is the top Republican on the Senate appropriations committee for military construction. He is a former member of the Navy and plans to run for re-election in 2016.
"The military mission in Illinois is a top priority for me," Kirk said. "I think I can play a key role in maintaining Scott Air Force base as a major employer for Illinois."
The group also discussed the recent tanker study that determined Scott wouldn't be a good fit for the program. The study did not consider the agreement the base has with St. Louis MidAmerica Airport to use the ramp space there.
"The biggest concerns came out of the tanker study," Kirk said of the discussion. "Scott wasn't selected because they lacked ramp space. I would ask the Air Force to look at this land as one piece instead of two units, to see the field as one unified asset for the U.S. Air Force. The county wants the tanker aircraft and should be willing to share space. The feeling I got from the county people is that is not a significant problem and I asked for a copy of the agreement to share with the Air Force. I think a tanker airfield right in the middle of the U.S. makes sense."
He expressed concern regarding the taxation of private military housing at the base and how that taxation will ultimately affect military families.
"We need to keep the needs of military families first in foremost in our budget priorities," he said. "The contractors that built the homes did not include what the tax payment would be in the business models and that is very worrying to me. That is a significant error."
He asked the group to create a YouTube video extolling the virtues of the base and the communities to post on his web site at www.Kirk.Senate.gov.
"I want to be the leading electronic salesman for Scott," Kirk explained of the request. "I want to be the top salesman for the base and I want top leadership to see how important Scott is and what Scott does."
After his meeting with the task force, Kirk discussed other issues facing Southern Illinois. The recent announcement by the EPA of new pollution regulation that will affect coal-burning power plants is bad news for the region, he explained.
"I don't support the regulatory action of the EPA on this front," he said. "I worry about unemployment in the coal industry and in Illinois. My top concern is building employment in Illinois and in the U.S. I worry that the EPA doesn't really care much about employment. If they trigger unemployment in Southern Illinois and West Virginia, they will do more harm than good. I support families, and jobs support families."
He also explained that he is focused on working on developing private and public partnerships to market the Mississippi River as a "drag strip" to generate agricultural income across the state. By using the river to move great quantities of grains at cheaper costs than international competitors, the river could be a key player in boosting the state's economy.
"I'm betting on a winner and that winner is the Mississippi River," he said. "For low cost bulk cargo we could move grain at a cost below all of our competitors."