Florida military bases could lose up to $177 million to the border wall
By STEVE CONTORNO | The Tampa Bay Times | Published: February 18, 2019
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — President Donald Trump will pay for his wall at the southern border in part by taking $3.6 billion from military projects across the country and the world.
The decision means Florida bases could lose up to $177 million for planned construction, more than all but eight other states, according to a list of eligible projects compiled by the House Appropriations Committee and provided to the Tampa Bay Times.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the influential Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies subcommittee, said the move is an indication that Trump feels the wall "is a higher priority than these projects."
Among the projects in jeopardy are $3.1 million to relocate KC-135 Stratotanker pilot flight simulators to MacDill Air Force Base. The KC-135 are refueling planes "critical to the joint warfighter and our allies," Gen. Carlton D. Everhart said in a June 2018 press release, and the simulators would allow pilots to experience realistic training of these aircrafts and practice emergency protocol.
Other projects that could lose funding include: $83 million for a Littoral Combat Ship support facility and $29 million for a Littoral Combat Ship operational training facility at Mayport Naval Base in Jacksonville, and $35 million for a F-35A training center and $28 million for a F-35A student dormitory at Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County.
On Friday, Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border and announced he would divert funding from other government operations to build a wall along a section of the border. The declaration came after the House and Senate reached an agreement on a spending deal to avoid another government shutdown that included $1.4 million for new fencing — but not a wall — between the United States and Mexico.
Trump had originally sought $5.7 billion for enhanced border barriers and "the wall."
The declaration of a national emergency is already facing a legal challenge, which Trump said Friday he expects to win at the Supreme Court. Critics said Trump didn't help his case when he acknowledged: "I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster."
To pay for the wall, Trump would also use $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund and up to $2.5 billion under the Department of Defense funds transferred for support for counter-drug activities. Those two sources would be used before military construction funds are diverted, the White House said.
Trump's vision for the wall already has been substantially scaled down since his campaign for the White House, when it was to be built of concrete and span the length of the 1,900-mile border and be paid for by Mexico. Now, he's looking to build "steel slats" along about half of the 1,900-mile stretch, relying on natural barriers for the rest. Previous administrations constructed over 650 miles of barriers.
The White House said Trump would not try to redirect federal disaster aid to the wall, including future expected funding to aid victims of Hurricane Michael, a proposal they had considered but rejected over fears of a political blowback.
The administration had not decided which military construction projects are slated to be stripped of their funding. Congress had set aside about $10 billion for base projects, and $3.6 billion of that will instead go to the border.
Chris Hartline, a spokesman for Florida Sen. Rick Scott, said "there are no major projects at MacDill or housing projects at any Florida base potentially impacted by the President's national emergency declaration." Scott, a Republican, supported Trump's unilateral action to heighten security at the border.
Scott "will work with the Administration to ensure Florida's bases receive all the resources they need to support the men and women of our armed forces that risk their lives to keep us safe," Hartline said.
But the potential delays to the relocation of the KC-135 to MacDill could affect the Air Force's flight readiness, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat representing the South Tampa base.
"I am furious," Castor said. "It is wrong for President Trump to steal funds that are used to support America's military service members."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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