Joint base defense funding part of NJ budget

A resolution appropriating $200,000 to the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to spend on efforts to protect the base and the state’s other military installations from cuts or closures was included in the state budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Gov. Chris Christie signed the $34.5 billion spending plan Monday after using his line-item-veto authority to ax more than $1.6 billion in spending from the budget crafted and passed by the Legislature’s Democratic majority.

The $200,000 appropriation to support the joint base remained untouched by Christie’s veto pen, and lawmakers from both parties praised him Wednesday for supporting the investment.

“We really have to make an even stronger case nationally about why we need these bases here,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd of West Deptford, said during a news conference in downtown Wrightstown, within shouting distance of the sprawling base.

Sweeney and other lawmakers at the news conference said defending the joint base is crucial to the county’s and state’s economies.

The installation, which spans 42,000 acres in Burlington and Ocean counties, is New Jersey’s second-largest employer with 44,000 jobs on-site. It also is credited with generating 65,000 additional jobs in businesses nearby.

“Imagine losing 65,000 jobs. I thank the governor for recognizing it and my colleagues for supporting this,” Sweeney said. “When you’re doing a state budget, a lot of people ask what’s in the state budget, and you hear certain things that sound like just numbers. Well, they’re not just numbers. They’re jobs. And it’s important for us to position New Jersey to be in the very best position to defend our employment opportunities.”

The $200,000 dedicated to the base is the first time New Jersey has appropriated funding specifically to support the preservation of its military installations, officials said.

It comes at a time when the U.S. Department of Defense is eyeing spending cuts and the possibility of a new round of base closures.

The last round was in 2005 and resulted in the merger of the previously separate installations of Fort Dix, McGuire Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Lakehurst into the military’s first tri-service “megabase.”

Although the joint base gained missions during the 2005 round of closures, Col. Mike Warner, a retired former commander of Fort Dix, said supporters of the base and the state’s other military installations need to be proactive about keeping them off closure and cutback lists.

“The Department of Defense is downsizing, and every place is threatened. We need to be prepared,” said Warner, who is a leader of the Defense Enhancement Coalition, a group of Burlington County and Ocean County residents and elected officials dedicated to defending the joint base.

Warner said the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs would coordinate with his group as well as with the New Jersey Council on Armed Forces and Veterans’ Affairs and the recently formed New Jersey Military Installation Growth and Development Task Force to determine how the state funding could be best spent.

He said the money could be used to update past studies of air space congestion over and around the joint base as well as other studies that could be used in the base’s defense.

“To have the resources to act proactively rather than reactively is absolutely essential,” said Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard, who joined Sweeney at the news conference with Freeholders Joseph Howarth and Joanne Schwartz; state Sen. Samuel Thompson, R-12th of Old Bridge; Assemblymen Ron Dancer, R-12th of Plumsted, and Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra; and Mayor Tom Harper.

Sens. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park; Dawn Marie Addiego, R-8th of Evesham; James Beach, D-6th of Voorhees; and Donald Norcross, D-5th of Camden, could not attend, but they each released statements praising the inclusion of the funding in the budget.

“The joint base is critical to communities, families and businesses in the 7th District and surrounding counties in the state,” Allen said. “This funding is integral to making sure we do everything possible to keep the base open for our residents and thousands of our bravest men and women who sacrifice so much to protect us.”

“This was an extremely tough budget year, and some items in the budget that the Legislature approved were reduced or eliminated by Gov. Christie,” Addiego said. “The fact that this funding has remained in the budget should serve as proof to anyone watching that New Jersey will be prepared to fight for the future of our military bases.”

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  • Francesca Larson
    published this page in In The News 2014-07-03 10:00:05 -0400