Monday, August 13, 2007

TOP STORY >>Pryor: Can air base do better?

Leader senior staff writer

The Air Force wants new developers to take over failed housing privatization at Little Rock Air Force Base, Sen. Mark Pryor said Thursday, and he thinks the base is a logical site for training crew and maintainers of the new short-range, reduced-load cargo plane the Department of Defense seems likely to order.

With work at a standstill at Little Rock Air Force Base and other bases where Connecticut’s Carabetta family won contracts worth billions of dollars over the next 50 years to build, remodel, own and manage thousands of housing units for airmen and their families, the Air Force is trying to repackage the contracts for other developers to finish the job, Pryor said Thursday after visiting with officials on the base.

Pryor said the quality of the 25 units completed was good, but Brig. Gen. Select Rowayne Schatz has said Carabetta’s American Eagle Communities should have completed 200 units by now and is two years behind schedule.

“This is costing time,” said Pryor. “It’s a quality of life issue.”

He said he’s concerned that in restructuring privatization, the Air Force might have to scale back.

Given Carabetta’s decades-long history of unpaid subcontractors, unfinished work and litigation, he said he wants to know why they were awarded the contracts in the first place.

“We’ll try to get to the bottom of this,” he said.

Pryor said that a new joint cargo aircraft “looks like a done deal,” and while it’s not a C-130J, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, he said Little Rock Air Force Base would still be a good place to train pilots, crews and maintainers.
“It seems to me that Little Rock should get strong consideration,” he said.

That plane, the C-27J, will mostly be assigned to National Guard units.

Regarding the Air Force’s $9.8 million share of the planned Jacksonville/Little Rock Air Force Base Joint Education Center, Pryor said he would fight to restore that money—stripped from the military construction budget by the Senate Armed Forces Committee—when the bill is considered on the Senate floor.

He hopes to restore the money as a member of the House/Senate Conference Committee.

He is especially interested in the House version of the bill, in large part because Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, included the money for the education center.

“Cong. Snyder has been a tireless advocate in the House,” Pryor said. “He’s been like a dog with a bone.”

Pryor said he supports undertaking a detailed analysis of the nation’s infrastructure—not only roads, bridges, locks and dams and railroads, but also water delivery systems, electricity and broadband service.

“We need to create a blueprint to allocate resources,” he said. “We think about the next election, not 25 years down the road.”
“We need a comprehensive review, then to make some good public policy,” he said.

He said the nation also needed to figure out how to pay for the needed repairs.

“We need a healthy debate.”

“Iraq is so expensive—it’s off the charts. It takes (money) away from other things we need.”

On other matters, Pryor said he had worked hard to secure the nation’s borders, noting that he and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., successfully sponsored a bill that added $3 billion to border security.

He said he hoped that existing legislation that would fine business owners $10,000 for employing an illegal immigrant won’t result in unpicked crops rotting in the fields or increasing prices at the grocery store.

Pryor, who as a member of the so-called Gang of 14 headed off a Republican threat to eliminate the filibuster if the Democrats tried to use it to block votes on President Bush’s picks for judge a year ago, says it’s frustrating now to find the same Republicans resorting to the filibuster themselves to block the new Democratic majority from moving its own agenda forward.

Still, he said, Democrats have managed to implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation, fix the Alternative Minimum Tax, if only for a year, and increase the minimum wage.