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Where the Pentagon sees guns, Mass. sees butter

Posted in: Economics   *Gabrielle Gurley   Gubernatorial politics   National politics   Growth and development

With Gov. Deval Patrick gone AWOL more and more, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray has been tapped to lead the fight to forestall cutbacks at Bay State military facilities. So far, the Pentagon is winning.

Massachusetts has staved off major cuts before. But with the Department of Defense under pressure to shave nearly $500 billion from its fiscal 2013 budget, the Air Force moved ahead with its plan to trim more than 300 military and civilian jobs from four facilities: Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, and Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod.

The handwriting was on the wall for Westover last month when the Air Force announced it planned to transfer half of the military cargo planes at the facility to Texas. About a third of the civilian job cuts will come from Hanscom, which was nearly shuttered in the last major base reduction effort in 2005.

There’s a good amount of fat to be trimmed in the military, and civilian leaders are pushing the Pentagon to get with the new austerity program in Washington. In its report on the announcement, The Boston Globe focused on the disbanding of the military jazz and rock group stationed at Hanscom that accounts for 43 of the 55 active duty military position cuts there.

However, when Murray and other state and local officials and talk about the bases they tend to focus more on jobs, with a nod to national security priorities, rather than the other way round. The Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force that Murray heads “calls for a long term initiative to support all military installations in Massachusetts in order to both protect them and explore opportunities to bring in new missions.”

It’s not a revelation that Massachusetts wants to “protect” its military bases; every state does. Military facilities are an economic boon to nearby communities whether they provide civilian jobs or customers for local goods and services.

But these facilities are, first and foremost, cogs in the country’s defense machinery. With two more rounds of base reduction reviews coming in the next three years, state leaders must craft a stronger rationale to convince Pentagon officials to keep them here, one that more closely matches up with the Defense Department’s assessments of current threats to national security.

                                                                                                                                                                                --GABRIELLE GURLEY


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