A military advocacy group is sounding the alarm that if a budget deal is not made, mandated defense cuts would cost Arizona thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic output.
Current tax rates that expire at the end of 2012 will result in a $536 billion tax increase over a decade that would touch nearly all Americans. In addition, the military and other federal departments would have to begin absorbing about $110 billion in spending cuts. Half of those cuts would come out of the defense budget.
“Arizona would be critically and negatively affected across the defense and into other sectors of its economy,” said retired Lt. Gen. John F. Regni of Litchfield Park, who chairs the Southwest Defense Alliance. The alliance is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to preserve and enhance defense missions in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.
How the cuts might affect Yuma's two installations, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and Yuma Proving Ground, remain unclear as the automatic cuts don't spell out just where and how the reductions are to be made, Regni said. The only exemption from cuts is for active duty military personnel.
“There's not a lot of data on the direction the cuts will be applied,” he said. “There's no strategy to it. There's not a lot of clarity.”
But as a former commander, he said, he sees three potential challenges for the commanding officers of MCAS and YPG:
• There will be fewer resources for active duty personnel, such as fuel and supplies. “The commanders will have less dollars to support their mission.”
• Cuts may be made to those who support the two installations directly or indirectly, such as architects, engineers, service providers and custodians. “There's a potential that existing contracts will be cut with people in the local area who maintain the facilities.”
• Defense contractors and their secondary contractors could be impacted. “There will be less dollars for research, development and testing.”
Regni noted that YPG is the Army's largest test range in terms of work and dollars. “It's very important work ... too important to cut like this.”
Meanwhile, MCAS is the Marine Corps' premier aviation training base, hosting approximately 70 aviation units each year for ongoing training. It also is the first Marine base to receive the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Other major military facilities in Arizona include Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Fort Huachuca, Luke Air Force Base and the 162nd Fighter Wing, the Air National Guard's premier F-16 fighter pilot training unit.
Regni said a new study projects the expected impact of the economic cliff for Arizona's defense sector if the automatic defense cuts take hold under a process called “sequestration.” Sequestration calls for the Pentagon to cut $492 billion in military spending over the next 10 years. This is on top of the $487 billion already set to be cut from the defense budget over the same decade.
Together, the cuts would result in the loss in Arizona of an estimated 99,000 defense-related jobs, $5.4 billion in economic output and $1.7 billion in personal earnings over the next eight years, according to the study done for the Southwest Defense Alliance by Andrew Chang and Company, a Sacramento-based consulting firm.
“Sequestration is NOT a well-conceived strategic plan on how and where to smartly and prudently reduce budgets and improve efficiencies,” Regni said. “Instead, sequestration would be an across-the-board budget whack in all defense programs except the military personnel accounts. That's a formula for hollowing out the military and reducing the necessary dollars to operate military bases like Luke AFB, Fort Huachuca, MCAS Yuma and the others across Arizona.”
He concluded: “And as this recent study shows, it is also a formula to seriously cripple Arizona's defense sector economy with real jobs at stake. Those are all the more reasons for our elected officials to resolve the budget impasse … and very soon.”