Lawmakers advance bill appropriating $200K for defense of NJ military installations

 Legislation to appropriate taxpayer money each year for the defense of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and the state's other military installations continues to advance through the Legislature.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 10-0 on Monday to release the legislation without any discussion and clear it for a vote by the full Assembly.

The bill, which is sponsored by Assemblymen Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra; Herb Conaway, D-7th of Delran, and Ron Dancer, R-12th of Plumsted, would require the state to make an annual appropriation of up to $200,000 to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to fund studies and lobbying activities related to the preservation of the state's five remaining military installations: Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington and Ocean counties, Earle Naval Weapons Station in Monmouth County, 177th Fighter Wing in Atlantic County, and Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May County.

The bill would require an annual report on how the money is expended and would also require that the process for hiring any lobbyists or governmental affairs agents for assistance be open and competitive.

The 2016 fiscal year state budget included $200,000 for military installation defense, which was used to contract with a Washington lobbying firm to conduct research on each installation for a report recommending actions the state could take to enhance them and make them less vulnerable to closures and cutbacks by either the U.S. Department of Defense or a Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Gov. Chris Christie's proposed budget for the upcoming 2017 fiscal year includes another $200,000 appropriation for the same purpose.

President Barack Obama's proposed budget calls for a new round of base closures in 2019, but Congress has taken steps to block the request.

Singleton, Conaway and Dancer said New Jersey should still take action now to enhance the joint base and other military installations and prepare for a new round of closures. Both cited the bases' importance to the state's economy.

“Earmarking funds now for the preservation of our military bases is crucial to New Jersey’s economic future,” Conaway said. “The closing of any of the bases means job loss, a rise in the unemployment rate, a decrease in state revenue, and a slower economic recovery than we have already experienced. This legislation is a step the state must take to help military bases and the communities surrounding them.”

"The loss of any mission from our bases could trigger a financial disaster for the region,” Dancer said. “Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is a major economic engine. Only the state of New Jersey itself employs more people than the joint base.”

In addition to the legislation appropriating funding for installation defense, lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee approved a bill to create a permanent military ombudsman position in state government to spearhead efforts to enhance the economic viability of the installations.

Christie's administration already created the position via an executive order and appointed Gen. Clark W. Martin. Legislation sponsored by Conaway and Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, D-14th of Hamilton, would codify the position as a permanent part of state government rather than one that could be scuttled by another governor.

Both bills are cleared to be posted for votes in the full Assembly. They must also be approved by the Senate and signed by the governor to become law.

Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, has sponsored both measures in her chamber with Sen. James Beach, D-6th of Voorhees.


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