By Darrell Todd Maurina
Members of the New Mexico Military Base Planning Commission extensively debated whether the state has committed enough resources to protecting its military bases, according to Hanson Scott, a retired Air Force one-star general who serves as director of the commission.
Scott said a major focus of Tuesday’s meeting in Albuquerque was the Pentagon’s criteria for the base realignment and closure process, commonly known as BRAC.
“The subcommittees will probably get together now and decide just how to respond to the criteria,” Scott said. “There was also discussion about budget levels and some commissioners expressed that we need to have more resources available and we tried to decide how we would address that.”
Commission member Marshall Stinnett of Portales said he was reasonably confident about Cannon’s chances of survival. However, he also said the commission may need to spend considerably more money than it has budgeted to convince the Department of Defense not to close any of New Mexico’s four bases.
“The governor has agreed to $400,000 but I think we’re going to have to convince him and the legislature that we need quite a bit more than that,” Stinnett said. “I think Arizona is putting up $3.2 million.”
Stinnett said other commission members, including a retired three-star general, proposed spending up to $10 million.
“If you look at the jobs created by these bases, that money would be a drop in the bucket compared to the harm if we lost one of them,” Stinnett said.
The money would go to hire consultants who do their own, independent analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of different installations. In the last BRAC round in 1995, the federal commission charged with listing bases to be realigned or closed targeted Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque. Kirtland was spared, but only due to extensive lobbying by New Mexico officials who persuaded the commission that Kirtland should remain open. Stinnett said New Mexico officials need to be prepared to do the same thing this time.
“If you get on the BRAC list, the only way you get off it is you nominate somebody who’s worse than you are,” Stinnett said. “You’ve got to be able to come up with a base that doesn’t meet the criteria as well as you do.”
Making a recommendation on funding will be the task of the commission’s steering committee, chaired by Clovis banker Randy Harris. Harris cautioned that just because other states are spending millions doesn’t mean New Mexico needs to spend the same amount.
“New Mexico has worked really hard for a long, long time before there ever was a BRAC to make sure the military installations were taken care of and the men and women of the armed services were taken care of,” Harris said. “There may be other states that haven’t done that and are having to catch up very quickly and spending a lot of dollars.
“I’m very pleased there were several legislators in the room today, and a commitment to do what is necessary but to be realistic as well,” Harris said. “Our goal is not to make headlines; our goal is to take care of the men and women of our military installations.”
Harris said the next meeting of the full commission will be March 17 or 18 in Alamogordo, and in the meantime his steering committee will prepare any recommendations that may be needed.
Harris said he was particularly pleased to see New Mexico military installations working together and said that could become a major argument for keeping them open.
“All of our military installations support each other and complement each other and I don’t think that’s the case everywhere,” Harris said. “I think that’s a message that needs to be talked about more and more.”