Virginia officials are anxiously waiting to see how the Pentagon’s proposed defense cuts will hit their huge military presence. But in at least one case, the budget reductions could actually help the state.
Four members of Virginia’s congressional delegation wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday to suggest that he could save some cash by cancelling plans to move a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier from Norfolk to Mayport, Fla.
“We have always questioned the rationale underlying the Department’s decision to homeport a CVN in Mayport,” wrote Reps. Randy Forbes (R), Scott Rigell (R), Bobby Scott (D) and Rob Wittman (R).
“Given the breadth of defense budget reductions now being applied across the Department, and specifically to the U.S. Navy, we remain convinced that allocating an estimated $500 million to $1 billion to this project would not be in the strategic interests of the Department of the Navy nor the fiscal interests of the nation,” the letter said.
The letter was merely the latest salvo in a years-long battle between the Virginia and Florida congressional delegations over the proposal. Each side has tried to include language in defense bills either blocking or encouraging the carrier move, which will be worth thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars to whichever state ultimately gets it.
The Pentagon has proposed putting a carrier in Mayport because it says keeping the entire East Coast carrier fleet in one location — Norfolk — makes it vulnerable to attack or natural disaster. Virginia officials have argued, as the lawmakers did again this week, that the move would cost too much given the current economic climate.
Not surprisingly, Florida lawmakers have already responded to Wednesday’s letter.
“Leaders at the highest levels of the Pentagon have stated from day one that they stand behind the strategic imperative of two nuclear-capable homeports on the East Coast – one in Norfolk, one in Mayport,” Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) said in a statement released by his office. “I couldn’t agree more and will continue my fight to ensure the necessary resources are available for that work.”
The carrier isn’t supposed to be moved to Mayport until 2019, giving both states plenty of time to keep maneuvering.