The United States has been shutting down military installations built in the midst of the Cold War, well, since the middle of the Cold War. Seeing that individual representatives would fight hard to keep their districts’ military bases up and running, Congress passed the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Act in 1990. This law established the BRAC Commission, a board appointed by the president that is charged with shutting down bases. In 2005 it issued a list of closures, including Fort McPherson in Atlanta and Fort Gillem in Forest Park. The word in Washington is that the next round of BRAC closures might come as early as 2019.
The Georgia State House has formed a 15-member study committee to examine ways that Georgia can avoid further closures. Georgia has nine major defense installations and the fifth largest active duty population in the country. Juggernauts such as Fort Benning, Fort Gordon, and Dobbins Air Base might be at risk when the next BRAC recommendations come down.
Gov. Deal has kept his eye on the ball so far. In 2012, he established the Governor’s Defense Initiative to make sure that economic development projects were being coordinated with base retention efforts. Here are a few of the programs:
- Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative: Listen to the needs of businesses representing industries around the state, including a military focus, and identify paths that will effectively train the skilled workforce they need for the future.
- GUARD Initiative: An ongoing effort to assist and strengthen Georgia aerospace and defense companies who perform Department of Defense (DoD) related work in creating new business opportunities and managing their talent resources.
- Operation: Workforce: Georgia’s veteran and transitioning service member employment initiative. This program connects current and former service members with the workforce system, and at the same time, Georgia businesses with this skilled workforce.
- Georgia Veteran Education Career Transition Resource Center (VECTR):The University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia joined forces to develop the program which will open in Warner Robins. The 32,000 square-foot facility will serve as an academic and workforce gateway for veterans as they prepare for civilian employment, re-enter Georgia’s workforce and systems of higher education.
In the 2016 session, state legislators tried to complement Gov. Deal’s plan to make Georgia more military friendly. Supporting the military was a bipartisan effort (who knew?). House Democrats introduced a package of bills to help Georgia meet goals set by the Department of Defense’s USA4 Military Families Initiative. This initiative was called “A Promise Kept,” and it dealt with everything from professional licensing for transitioning service members to punishing companies that engage in predatory lending with members of the military. Two of the bills, the Military Spouses and Veterans Licensure Act and the Protecting Guardsmen’s Employment Act were signed into law.
On the Republican side, State Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Perry) brought forward a plan to cut down the waiting period that military dependents with Medicaid and other medical coverage have to endure if they temporarily leave the state. Sen. Walker endured the relentless hazing that comes with a member’s first bill and got it passed through the Senate. Unfortunately, it did not make it through the House.
More controversial ideas came from Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) and Rep. John Yates (R-Griffin). Both of their plans would have exempted military retirement payments from state income taxes, although Rep. Petrea’s bill would have offset the lost revenue with a rise in the excise tax on cigarette sales. Rep. Yates’ bill left the tax cut unfunded. Neither bill passed, but Rep. Petrea said that he always expected a multi-year fight and will be bringing his bill back in future sessions.
The House study committee was named in early June. It will hold at least five meetings to discuss ways for Georgia to keep its bases from being shut down. Look for its report and recommendations to come out by December 1st.