Friday, January 27, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Military cuts loom large

Little Rock Air Force Base will get new leadership next week as Col. Brian Robinson succeeds Col. Mike Minihan, just days after Thursday’s announcement of huge cuts in military spending.

For many in the military, it was Black Thursday, because the cuts include a reduction in personnel, smaller pay raises, as well as lower retirement and health benefits. There was much more:

Other cuts include eliminating seven Air Force squadrons, retiring 65 older C-130s, eliminating fighter planes and reducing the number of battleships. Many of those cuts will affect Little Rock Air Force Base and veterans who live here.

Defense Secretary Leon Penatta has proposed a $525 billion military budget, down from $531 billion. Another $487 billion will be cut over the next decade, in addition to some $500 billion in cuts that are required under Congressional spending guidelines.

The Air Force budget of $119.6 billion is down $4.5 billion from the year before as more cuts were announced Thursday.

The Pentagon has also called for another round of base closings, which are unpopular with members of Congress whose districts might be affected.

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) supports cutting military spending but opposes canceling a $4.4 billion avionics contract to upgrade aging C-130s at Little Rock Air Force Base and elsewhere. The Air Force announced the end of the avionics modernization program earlier this month, although Griffin thinks supporters in Congress could get it back on track.

He thinks the avionics program saves money in the long run because it would keep hundreds of C-130s in the air. He’s also unhappy that some 45 civilians are losing their jobs at the base.

At an appearance at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce dinner Thursday, Griffin said President Obama’s budget proposal is only “the first step” before negotiations start in Congress, which will decide the size of the defense budget.

Griffin said Obama’s military budget didn’t get far last year, and he predicted smaller cuts this year. Will Congress split the difference with the Obama administration? Perhaps. The military shouldn’t have to bear the biggest cuts in the federal budget. But even if half the proposed cuts are restored, a $500 billion reduction over the next decade will be widely felt.