Lawmakers Concerned About State's Defense Jobs
By Jennifer McDermott
New London Day
October 9, 2011
EB, others have much at stake as 'super committee' sizes up the federal budget
Members of the state's congressional delegation are worried that the defense programs responsible for about 40,000 jobs in Connecticut - from submarines to engines and helicopters - will get caught in the cross hairs if a congressional "super committee" can't reduce the mounting federal debt.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, compared the across-the-board cuts that could be triggered with taking a "mindless chain saw to the federal budget," in which case "everybody has to be pretty concerned about every program and every installation."
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the super committee, must agree by Thanksgiving on how to shrink the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade - on top of the cuts already mandated by the act that increased the debt ceiling. Congress must approve the proposal by Christmas.
If either fails, the result would be automatic, across-the-board spending cuts of $1.2 trillion - with half coming from the Defense Department - in January 2013.
"If the super committee fails, nobody knows what's going to be left standing," Courtney said.
Connecticut is the third smallest state but ranks sixth among all states on a per capita basis for defense spending, according to the latest annual report from the state's Office of Military Affairs.
Defense purchasing and manufacturing accounts for at least 6 percent, and possibly as high as 10 percent, of the state's total gross domestic product, said Bob Ross, executive director of the office. More than 25,000 people work in the private-sector defense industry, while as many as 15,000 are employed by the Defense Department or Department of Homeland Security in the public sector.
The Defense Department paid Connecticut companies $12 billion in both 2008 and 2009, and $13.5 billion last year. It expects to pay nearly $13 billion this year. New London and Fairfield counties receive the overwhelming share of those defense dollars.
The East Hartford-based Pratt & Whitney is building engines for the Joint Strike Fighter while Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. manufactures military helicopters in Stratford. Electric Boat in Groton jointly builds two Virginia-class submarines a year with Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.
These programs are priorities for the Defense Department, Ross said. But across-the-board cuts would not take priorities for acquisition programs, missions or capabilities into consideration, making it "the most reckless public policy," he added.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said, "Almost all of our vital social and defense programs would be jeopardized." The governor's spokeswoman, Colleen Flanagan, said that in such a scenario, it is certain that the resulting cuts would "impact our state significantly."
EB spokesman Robert Hamilton said it was "too speculative" at this point to comment on the potential impact to the shipyard, but it's something they are "watching very closely."
The state could also suffer if the Pentagon closes military bases to reduce its budget.
The Pentagon nearly closed the Naval Submarine Base in Groton during the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment process. The facility's annual economic impact to the state is roughly $4.5 billion, with 15,000 jobs tied to it.
Slashing the defense budget by $600 billion would "almost require" base closures, Courtney said. A spokesman for the sub base said he wouldn't comment on the impact of the possible cuts since the super committee hasn't made its recommendations.
Ross said he doubts there will be another formal BRAC in the near future because the 2005 round, the costliest ever, did not produce the expected savings and it takes time to realize those savings because the Defense Department pays to implement the BRAC commission's recommendations.
Instead, Ross worries that the Pentagon could cut back on missions and capabilities at the base, causing some of the same effects as a BRAC - fewer jobs and less of an economic impact. He calls it "hollowing a base from within."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said there's no question that the nation needs to "put our fiscal house in order."
"But I think there are ways to make smart cuts - not just cuts across the board - smart but intelligent cuts of wasteful and unnecessary spending," he said.
Reducing health care delivery costs, closing loopholes that encourage companies to send jobs overseas and eliminating subsidies for ethanol and oil and gas interests are just a few of the ways to cut spending and bolster revenues, Blumenthal said. Such actions can help reach the super committee's target and "avoid real harm to Connecticut citizens."
Blumenthal has urged members of the super committee to come to a consensus to avoid the across-the-board cuts.
"I'm hopeful that there will be an agreement," he said, "but there's no certainty."