Military cuts might loom over region; activists say we can't maneuver much
By Zachary S. Fagenson
There seems to be little local and state officials can do to avoid coming cuts in military spending, though no one knows when or where they'll happen.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates last month asked all parts of the military to find ways to reduce budgets. None of the suggestions will be revealed until they're presented as part of President Obama's budget in February, according to Rocky McPherson, director of military and defense programs for Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development agency.
"We've seen the first evidence of it about two weeks ago with the closure of a major joint forces command in Virginia," he said.
Though it's unlikely top military officials will recommend a similar move for the Southern Command, which will soon move into a new $400 million headquarters in Doral, the massive military presence in Florida and South Florida makes it a likely target for cost-cutting.
"There's approximately $60 billion of economic impact in the state annually, 20 major bases and three unified commands that run operations around the world," Mr. McPherson pointed out.
The military is in the midst of deciding where to build a $40 million base for special operations, with Homestead Air Reserve Base and a facility adjacent to the Southern Command under consideration.
But competition among states for such projects is sure to intensify.
While little can be done to avoid cuts, most activists here are focused on making Florida and Miami-Dade a welcoming place for the military and telling the state's congressional delegation about its importance to local economies.
But it becomes doubly difficult when there's little communication between the business community and local military leaders.
"We have been trying to write petitions… send them to senators and congress people and make them aware these cuts are coming and we want them to defend us here," said Zoila De Yurre, chair of the committee for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, though "you have to realize the Military Affairs Committee has not been very active even though we have such a large military presence. There's not that unity behind it in the community."
Ms. De Yurre said she's soon to meet with heads of Southern Command and Homestead Air Reserve Base to discuss what can be done to possibly avoid deep cuts.
But even opening and improving relationships with local leaders may be futile.
"The Department of Defense, it's in Washington, DC, military service headquarters staff," Mr. McPherson said. "Will individual bases get asked? Yes, they will, and their input will be rolled into whatever the view of the whole national structure is."