From the Hartford Courant and New England Cable News.
Effort To Keep Sub Base Afloat
Lawmakers Offer Incentives To Help Boost EB's Business
March 23, 2005
By JESSE HAMILTON, Courant Staff Writer A group of state legislators hopes to erect a shield of cash and incentives to protect the vulnerable Navy submarine base in Groton from this year's nationwide round of base closures.
The bipartisan group is pushing a Senate bill for $40 million in improvements and some major tax benefits aimed at keeping the base from shutting down and taking Electric Boat, hundreds of subcontractors and 25,000 jobs with it.
Connecticut's long history with nuclear submarines could end if the base appears on the list of military facilities to be closed. The secretary of defense will release a list of his suggestions May 16, and a nine-member commission - nominated last week amid criticism that it had no representatives from the Northeast - will be responsible for sending a final list to the president in September.
Groton's base was on a proposed base-closing list in 1993 but escaped the final ax.
Under a banner reading "S.O.S., Save Our Submarines" in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford Tuesday, lawmakers made their case for spending millions to save a Connecticut defense industry that, according to some estimates, does $2.5 billion worth of business a year.
"Let me go right to the heart of things," said Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford. "This is about Connecticut jobs and Connecticut's economy."
He and Catherine Cook, R-Mystic, authored the bill, which would set aside $40 million for energy-efficiency projects - advances such as on-site fuel cells - to reduce utility bills for the base and Electric Boat. But much more sweeping is its proposal to repeal local property taxes on new manufacturing equipment bought by Connecticut companies after July 1. Proponents argue that would improve the business climate for Electric Boat and its hundreds of subcontractors.
"This is Connecticut's step up," said Cook. "The most significant action today is that we're taking some action."
Were the Groton base to close, it would start an "economic tsunami" that would go far beyond the loss of 17 submarines, LeBeau said. Electric Boat and hundreds of businesses would absorb major hits.
A vice president of Electric Boat, retired Navy Rear Adm. John B. Padgett III, admitted such an event would cause components of his company to "shift elsewhere."
House Speaker James A. Amann said, "There is no more critical thing facing us in the state right now."
If the base closed, "what would we do?" he asked Tuesday's audience. "What would we do?"
For more than a year, the Pentagon has been examining bases across the country, asking questions and compiling detailed information for the Base Realignment and Closure process. The Bush administration has estimated that as many as a quarter of U.S. military bases are unnecessary.
Several New England bases could make this year's list, including the sub base; the naval shipyard in Portsmouth, Maine; and Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. The goals are cost savings and efficiency.
In the dwindling world of submarines, there are three bases on the East Coast: Groton; Norfolk, Va.; and Kings Bay, Ga. John C. Markowicz, chairman of Connecticut's base-defending Subase Realignment Coalition, has said the Navy seems to be moving toward eliminating one of them. He helped protect the base at Groton when it was on a base closing list in the 1990s, and is charged with doing it again.
"There are a lot of high mountains to climb before then," he said Tuesday.
Connecticut has been paying for lobbying in Washington, but other states have been at least as aggressive in the fight to keep their own bases. Several of them have set aside millions for improvements to bases, according to a list Markowicz has compiled. This new Senate bill is Connecticut's own response.
Glen Wilson, director of Groton Utilities, said the $40 million over the next two years should help reduce utility costs for the base and sub-building company - two entities that represent a third of his business. He said power costs are higher in New England than in Georgia and Virginia, putting the area at a disadvantage.
Another boost on the business side of submarines is the tax repeal proposal for manufacturing equipment. LeBeau estimated it will knock property-tax revenue down by at least $10 million a year for the towns, which will have to be covered for five years by the state general fund until a future tax kicks in. The bill calls for a gradual increase from 7.5 to 8.75 percent in the state corporate tax between 2010 and 2015.
The tax deal isn't specific to submarine builders, but LeBeau argued it will do a lot of good for the 526 state businesses connected to Virginia-class submarine construction. LeBeau said, "We linked them because it's so crucial to these defense manufacturers."
The bill would also form a six-member board to watch the ongoing military base closure process and monitor the viability of the state's defense industry.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell hadn't had time to review the bill Tuesday, but she talked about wanting to make sure the state doesn't broadcast mixed messages that it has doubts about the base closing.
"I'm not conceding defeat on the sub base," she said. "We're working every single day to keep that base open."
About whether this new effort can change the minds of federal decision-makers this late in the process, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said, "The military value of our base is the most important criteria, but the relationship between the base and the community is also an important factor in developing and maintaining that military value."
Groton, which bills itself as the "submarine capital of the world," is in Rep. Rob Simmons' 2nd District. A base closure there "takes the heart out of our state," Simmons, a Republican, has said. "It's kind of like paving over the Connecticut River."
A discussion of this story with Courant Staff Writer Jesse Hamilton is scheduled to be shown on New England Cable News each hour today between 9 a.m. and noon.