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Bipartisan Group Supports Legislation to Assist TX Military Communities

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

Stressing "there are no Democrats or Republicans in a foxhole," a bipartisan group of House and Senate members today gathered to announce legislation aimed at protecting and enhancing the state's military communities.

Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) said his SB 252 and its companion, HB 548 by Rep. Dianne White Delisi (R-Temple), are intended to "preserve and expand the mission" of military bases in and near Texas communities.

During the 78th Legislature, HB 2912 was passed, which limited military communities' ability to utilize 4A and 4B sales taxes for development related to their communities, which Estes called "a mistake."

Because 2005 is the year for Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions, Estes said the legislation will ensure military bases are protected. He said $33 billion is spent on military bases in Texas each year, and that means a $77 billion economic impact for the state. "We want to keep these bases," he said.

If teachers and postal workers were to be removed from the mix, Delisi said that Fort Hood, in her House district, would be the largest employer in the state. She said one-fifth of the U.S. Army's total population is housed there, with a $140 million per month payroll. The benefit to Central Texas, she said, is $3.4 billion per year. Thus, she said, protecting such communities is important from the standpoint of strategic readiness, deployment and economic development for state.

When the state lost Kelly Air Force Base during BRAC rounds, it was a tremendous blow to the community and to the state's economy, said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), chair of the Senate's Veterans Affairs and Military Installations Committee. She said the legislation outlined today will give cities tools "to better inoculate themselves" if they are victims of base closures.

"We have upon us one of the biggest sleeping giants that is going to affect our state in 2005 and beyond and that's BRAC," said Rep. Frank Corte (R-San Antonio), noting that BRAC decisions will be made soon. He said both Senate and House committees worked during the interim following the 78th Legislature to ensure the state has a "positive, proactive reaction to BRAC." He said it is important that the Department of Defense "takes note of Texas in a big way," so that bases in the state can be modernized and expanded.

A Marine veteran, Corte said the transformation of military bases means more modern forces, security and a savings to the federal government that will mean the generation of major economic projects in the state that "will rival any industry" in Texas. He said the $7 billion economic impact in military bases in Texas have "does not come free," citing the price paid by military families in support of the nation's defense. He said several bills and appropriations requests will be coming to the Legislature this session addressing some of the military concerns.

Rep. Gene Seaman (R-Corpus Christi) said he expects Texas to be a "net gainer" in this round of BRAC decisions, because the state has clean air, air space and "so many things going for us." He said if the state does lose any of its bases, then communities will need access to the 4A and 4B funds "to restructure around the bases to keep them economically viable."

HB 2912 last session was carried by Rep. Mark Homer (D-Paris), who this morning said the legislation was intended to clean up abuses to the Economic Development Act. It "inadvertently" disallowed the use of 4A and 4B funds by military communities. He said he never intended for the bill to do that, and said he "wholeheartedly" supports restoring the use of those funds. Homer said the funds are needed to keep military communities viable, not only for security reasons but for the economic impact it would have on the state, adding that use of those funds by military communities meets the spirit of the Economic Development Act because it would create jobs.

Melissa Noriega, who is serving in his place in the House while husband Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston) serves in the military in Afghanistan, said she is grateful to the state for its consideration regarding military communities. "The military is terribly important to this state, and there are real people in those communities," she said.

Texas is well prepared for the next BRAC round, said Van de Putte, stressing that BRAC is no longer "one community versus another" as it has been in the past in Texas. She said people in the different military communities have joined together instead of competing against each other, and have the attitude of, "We are family."

Corte said Texas leads the nation in being pro-active regarding its military communities. Calling BRAC a "unique animal," Corte said the state is "in a good position no matter what happens in BRAC."