BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU – It’s a lot of bad news, says one Hawaii Democrat.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, says planned Department of Defense cuts to the state’s military budget are going to hurt.
Beginning Oct. 1, Hawaii expected $449.5 million for a series of construction projects, including several on the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe, Oahu. That allocation was sliced by more than half.
“We are looking at the possibility of significant cuts to defense spending, including losing almost half of our anticipated military construction, $128.3 million in projects from Marine Corps Base Hawaii alone. Other projects have been excluded as well, including funding for the Saddle Road that the people of the Big Island have been waiting for years to finish, and important projects like Pacific Missile Range Facility,” Hanabusa said.
The reductions conflict with what President Obama said in Australia in 2011. He announced he would refocus the nation’s security on the Asia-Pacific region and boost troops and resources in Hawaii and Australia. The realignment was planned in part to counter China’s military expansion, North Korea’s missile development, violent extremism in the Philippines and piracy in the region.
“Our enduring interests in the region demand our enduring presence in this region. The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay,” Obama told the Australian Parliament in 2011.
“As we end today’s wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia-Pacific a top priority. As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not — I repeat, will not— come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific,” Obama said.
Hanabusa said, “At a time when Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, has stated that the he already cannot meet the demands of the Pacific with the existing fleet, the proposal to mothball 11 cruisers will only exacerbate the existing shortfalls in the Navy.”
State Rep. Mark Takai, a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard, said he is “shocked and stunned” by the drastic cuts to the defense construction budget for the military.
The March 4 reductions eliminate a $104.5 million Marine operations center, a $65.4 million bachelor-enlisted quarters and $62.9 million project to upgrade an airfield electrical system, among other projects.
“Our military bases are in desperate need of upgrades to accommodate this new focus,” said Takai, a Democrat. “This is not the time to eliminate these military construction projects for Hawaii as the Asia-Pacific Region becomes the priority.”
The effects of these cuts, which also include $15 million to complete the Saddle Road on Hawaii Island — affecting the main thoroughfare for military vehicles — and funding for a Maui Space Surveillance Complex and Maui High Performance Computing Center will be felt throughout the state and are inconsistent with our national defense strategies, the lawmakers say.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a March 4 news conference the Obama administration’s plans to reduce the U.S. Army to its smallest size since before World War II, from 570,000 soldiers to 440,000, and make other substantial cuts to all branches of the military, including base closures in 2017.
The U.S. military has more than 108,000 troops and dependents in Hawaii, according to data from 2012. That includes two Army posts and the Tripler Army Medical Center, two Air Force bases, two Coast Guard and three Navy stations, and a Marine Corps base.
“At this point, my priority is to work to restore funding through the National Defense Authorization Act, through my position on the House Armed Services Committee. I’m submitting a number of budget requests and will work with my colleagues on HASC to ensure that Hawaii gets the funding it needs and deserves,” Hanabusa said.
Military spending is one of Hawaii’s top economic drivers, and economists speculate the planned cuts will have additional impact.
The state Council on Revenues already revised Hawaii’s economic growth forecast downward in recent days— from 3.3 percent growth to 0 percent growth — creating a $460 million negative impact to the state budget, according to Kalbert Young, director of the state Office of Budget and Finance.
Still, he’s taking a more positive approach to the news.
“Considering the geographic position of Hawaii and the strategic advantage the U.S, Department of Defense has previously recognized about Hawaii, I am still optimistic that the allocation of military spending to Hawaii against other military spending areas will still be a significantly positive and beneficial contributor of Hawaii’s overall economy.”
Takai said the Legislature will do what it can to stop the plan from moving forward.
“We will work together with our congressional delegation, the Military Affairs Council and my colleagues in the Legislature to do whatever we can to ensure that we support our military and it’s efforts to carry out the mandates of the new rebalance to the Pacific,” Takai said.
Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com