Two bills aim to protect Texas military bases from closure, consolidation

AUSTIN -

A U.S. House Bill calls for another round of BRAC, or base realignment and closure. That is when the Department of Defense looks at all of its military bases across the country and consolidates or closes some to save money.

The next BRAC round could happen in 2019, but Texas legislators want to make sure the state's military bases are not on the list. That includes NAS-Corpus Christi and NAS-Kingsville.

It was a topic at the Texas State Capitol today. For more than three hours, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee discussed two bills that could protect state military installations from BRAC.

Senate Bill 751 would ensure information about a military base's weaknesses, which is gathered by the Governor's military task force, is not made public.

"The idea that any base that has vulnerabilities could be closed by the federal government, with the economic impact that our military bases have in Texas, we want to shore up every base," said Senator Donna Campbell, District 25, a bill author.

A representative for the Corpus Christi City Council testified before the committee in support of the bill, saying, "We'll be competing with other communities which will be trying to identify our weaknesses, and yes, steal our missions from Texas."

The committee voted unanimously to move the bill forward.

However, that was not the case for Senate Bill 277, which barely passed in a 4 to 3 vote. That bill would end state tax abatements for wind farms built within 30 nautical miles (about 26 miles) of military bases. It is meant to prevent possible risks to flight training missions, which could cause those missions to move elsewhere.

Senators named NAS-Kingsville one base at risk, with the nearby Chapman Wind Farm project already approved.

Some senators questioned how the bill could impact the wind industry, but bill co-author Senator Juan 'Chuy' Hinojosa stands behind it.

"Wind farms are important, but our militaries are more important," he said. "We're talking about public safety, we're talking about national security."

Both bills aim to protect Texas military bases from BRAC consolidation or closure.

The Coastal Bend's two naval air stations contribute $5.3 billion to the local economy. Senator Hinojosa says closure would be detrimental.

"We would lose thousands of jobs, millions of dollars that help the whole infrastructure we have in the Coastal Bend area," Senator Hinojosa said.

During the last legislative session, the state budget earmarked $30 million in funding to preserve Texas military installations, but the amount in the current budget is zero. Because of that, representatives from the Coastal Bend will be back will be back at the State Capitol lobbying to protect local military bases from BRAC.

"That's a big deal to us," said Mark Scott, a member of the South Texas Military Facilities Task Force. "We don't need a handout, but we need help. And so we're going back to try to put the $30 million back in the budget."

From here the two bills that passed in the committee hearing go to the full Senate, with the committee's recommendation that they move forward.

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