$2 million added to state budget for Wright-Patt after panel snub

Area state lawmakers are backing a $2 million addition to the state budget to pay for everything from roofs to security gate barriers at Wright-Patterson.

The money was added after area leaders were stung when a state panel distributing $5 million to military bases across Ohio snubbed Wright-Patterson and NASA Glenn Research Center near Cleveland and split the money between two Air National Guard bases despite millions of dollars in requests from both federal installations.

RELATED: Wright-Patterson loses out on a request for millions in state dollars

State Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, who said he added the latest amendment for Wright-Patt, said it was a pre-emptive measure if and when Congress and the Pentagon pursue another round of military base closures.

“It is in our best interests to put some money towards Wright-Patterson that will go to infrastructure that will make the base a little more sound,” he said.

The House passed the budget amendment Tuesday. Still, he said, the legislation has a long way to completion to guarantee the money would remain in a massive two-year state spending bill.

The nine-member Ohio Military Facilities Commission chose to send $2.5 million to the Toledo Air National Guard Base to build a combined deployment processing and physical fitness center and another $2.5 million to relocate a taxiway at Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base.

‘Sends the right signal to Washington’

The decision raised the ire of U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, who has predicted another round of military base closures in 2020. His district encompasses all of Wright-Patterson, which with an estimated 27,000 employees ranks as the largest single work site in Ohio and has an estimated $4 billion regional economic impact.

“Wright-Patt as an economic engine continues to grow the Dayton region’s defense industry,” Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Tuesday. “This $2 million in state funding signifies Wright-Patt’s importance to the state and will assist us in advocating for the base during any upcoming BRAC.”

The statement praised state House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, for including the funds in a budget proposal.

“When a state legislature provides money to support local bases, it sends the right signal to Washington,” said Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant. “Any state can lobby Washington for money. It’s a very different thing when a state spends its own money to support local military facilities.”

If the money is spent “strategically,” it could influence a future Base Realignment and Closure process (BRAC), said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs.

Wright-Patterson spokeswoman Marie Vanover said if the money materializes it could be spent on airfield runway and road improvements, replacement of eight roofs, and installing barriers at a security gate.

No guarantee of money

State Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London, whose district includes Greene and Clark counties — both home to military installations — said he supports the extra money for Wright-Patterson, but there’s no guarantee legislators will let it will survive. The most recent budget figures show revenue expectations will fall short of spending projections.

Lawmakers are working on a $133 billion two-year spending bill that includes state and federal dollars. New projections indicate there could be an $800 million fall off in state revenues. Republican leaders in the Ohio House said the new budget proposal is balanced but when new revenue projections are released, changes may need to be made.

“In a normal year, I’d think we’d have no problems at all,” Hackett said. “The problem is the budget is coming to us somewhat hugely unbalanced. We still have to balance the budget.

“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “It’s a revenue side situation. It’s not, I don’t think, (on the) expenditure side. On the revenue side, I think our tax cuts were just a little too great last time,” he said, specifically mentioning a small business tax cut.

“There’s really nothing more important, I think, than in promoting Wright-Patt and promoting the companies that work with Wright-Patt because of the ability and the jobs they bring and the economic well-being they bring to the area,” he said.

RELATED: Turner, state lawmakers upset state declined money for Wright-Patterson

House lawmakers say yes

Miami Valley GOP lawmakers in the House have endorsed the money targeting Wright-Patterson.

“It was a tremendous win to keep that (in the budget),” said state Rep. Jeff Rezabek, R-Clayton.

State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, and a Navy veteran, said he didn't believe the amount of dollars set aside was as important as the intent and community support.

“Unfortunately, the money in the last cycle did not go to Wright-Patt and that’s very problematic,” said state Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., who has said he would not back more funding for military bases unless it was for Wright-Patterson. “It is the largest single site employer and it’s the one that’s going to undergo a BRAC and it’s the one that needs infrastructure help in Ohio.”

A message seeking comment was left Tuesday afternoon with the office of state Rep. Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, the House Democratic leader.

Staff writer Laura A. Bischoff contributed to this story.

This newspaper has closely covered developments in the fight over millions in state funds for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. For more Wright-Patterson news, log onto mydaytondailynews.com/military.

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