The federal government won't make a decision for years on whether to close Scott Air Force Base, but leaders in southwestern Illinois fear growing budget pressures in Washington could affect the facility's future.
Illinois' congressional delegation has vowed to work to keep the base open, even though the next round of closures won't begin taking place until at least 2015, according to the Belleville News-Democrat (http://bit.ly/Y6wfNV).
U.S. Department of Defense officials have said the military has more infrastructure than needed, and Illinois lawmakers fear the base will stay on the chopping block as the costs of Medicare and other government-funded social programs continue to soar, forcing spending reductions in other areas of the federal budget.
"If we don't reform our entitlement programs, discretionary dollars will continue to get cut, which puts Scott more at risk," Republican U.S. Rep. John Shimkus told the newspaper.
Nearly 4,500 civilian workers at the base near Mascoutah are already scheduled to start taking 20 days of unpaid furloughs between May and September as a result of a series of automatic federal budget cuts that began last month. The base is one of the area's economic mainstays.
The Pentagon's next round of base realignments and closures in 2015 is expected to cost $2.5 billion during the next five years.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart replaced former U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello of Belleville, who was a champion of the base's future. Enyart praised community-driven efforts to keep the base open.
The Air Force's Air Mobility Command recently cited the St. Louis region's strong support for Scott's military personnel as the reason for honoring the area with the prestigious Abilene Trophy. The award is given annually to the community that is most supportive of its local air force base.
"The folks are pulling together because they know how important it is," Enyart said. He said congressmen will work "very diligently" to make sure that the base Scott isn't impacted by base realignment and closure cuts. He said it isn't a partisan issue.
The last round of Congress-ordered base realignment and closures was implemented in 2005. It was a politically bruising maneuvering that eliminated tens of thousands of civilian jobs and cost more than $35 billion.