By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
BOSTON -- The Bay State could take on the unique role of funding construction on federal military installations, including Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford and Fort Devens, if Gov. Deval Patrick's $177 million bond bill becomes law.
"We are the only state to propose a military bond bill for all of our bases, and if this bill passes, we will be the only state to create a funding mechanism through our Department of Energy Resources to fund a first-in-the-nation initiative to work with all six bases to develop and fund projects to reduce energy operating costs and enhance energy security," Brig. Gen, Robert Brooks, of the Massachusetts National Guard, told a legislative committee last week.
The Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security reported the bill out favorably with a unanimous vote on June 27. House Chairman Harold Naughton said it might go next to the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets or Ways and Means.
The House has yet to vote on the bill.
The bond bill would fund capital projects on military installations under the recommendations of the Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force, which was established in February 2012.
"Over the last year the Task Force has analyzed our military installations to determine where there are opportunities to fill vacant spaces, upgrade aging infrastructure, become more energy efficient, identify new missions and build partnerships to bring more jobs and economic development at and around each site," said Retired Brig. Gen. Donald Quenneville, a MassDevelopment official. "This bond bill is a product of that analysis."
In 2005, the state approved a $261 million military bond bill for missions at Hanscom Air Force Base and Natick Soldier Systems Center. However the military never went forward with the missions, and none of the money was spent. The new bill would remove that bond authorization.
"It was directly related to establishing new missions there, none of which was done, so as a result of that there was no money expended," Quenneville said. "We were trying to encourage them to do some new missions there. They didn't really have anything on the books. We were just trying to encourage them by saying, 'Hey, we have this military bond bill that will help fund some of those additive missions,' but they never put anything there."
Federal legislation put in place during a 2011 dispute over raising the country's debt ceiling created spending cuts this year throughout the federal government, including the military.
"This was done with an eye towards enhancing our current operations," said Quenneville, who said the plan would help retain the 46,500 jobs and create construction jobs and potentially new jobs for new missions. He said, "It could be erecting a new hangar, or a new building for a mission."
The capital dollars would be available for the six military bases in Massachusetts: Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee; Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield; Natick Soldier Systems Center; Fort Devens; Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford; and the Massachusetts Military Reservation on Cape Cod.
Brooks said a runway resurfacing at Barnes, which is owned by the City of Westfield, is a "perfect example" of how the state funding can be put to good use, and combined with federal and local funding for what Quenneville said is a $20 million project.
"If we were to do something for example at Westover right now, where the military owns the entire airfield, that would be different," Quenneville said. He said there are "legal constraints" on how the state can fund military projects.
"What we can't do is give them money. So for example if they had a $10 million project that they wanted to undertake, out of this bond bill, we cannot give them $10 million so that they can go ahead and execute the project," Quenneville said. He said, "We would actually build the facility and then gift it to them."
Quenneville said other states, such as New Jersey, are following in the Bay State's footsteps in studying military assets, but he said none have provided state capital funding for military projects. He said, "I think what we're doing is unique."