Potomac News Online | Stars, money aid base-saving effort

R ICHMOND – Virginia is for lovers, and state officials want the Pentagon to know Virginia loves the military.

With the Pentagon and the Navy’s largest port, Virginia counts more than 170,000 military and civilian personnel as residents – second only to California. The Defense Department spends more money in Virginia, for everything from paychecks to nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, than anywhere except California. “We feel we’ve got a good case to make, but there is competition,” said Gov. Mark Warner, referring to the pending round of base closures and realignments.

The military occupies a wide swath of territory — dubbed the Virginia Military Crescent, by state officials – extending from Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads. In the crescent are 30 Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps installations.

While state officials hope to keep all bases open, some military analysts suggest underutilized installations, such as Fort Monroe and Fort Belvoir, are ripe for closing.

State legislators have passed several measures to aid service members’ quality of life, the governor said, including in-state college tuition for military personnel and their families. To reduce urban development around installations, the state bolstered zoning laws, officials said.

A 28-member Virginia Commission on Military Bases advises Warner on BRAC issues. Virginia drafted seven generals and two admirals – 32 stars total — for the commission. A retired congressman, a former Air Force secretary and a former Army undersecretary also serve.

The state has hired Public-Private Solutions Group of Alexandria to help develop strategies to save bases. The state paid $163,900 last year and will spend up to $150,000 this fiscal year.

Local communities from Fredericksburg to Hampton Roads spent a total of $345,000 on lobbyists during the past three years, according to congressional lobby reports.

The state has given $700,000 to local communities for military impact reports and economic development studies related to the base closure process, said George Foresman, Warner’s assistant for commonwealth preparedness and chief liaison for BRAC.

“We’re serving as traffic cops at the busy intersection of BRAC,” Foresman said.

To keep other states from learning its BRAC strategies, Virginia lawmakers exempted some commission records and meetings from the state’s open records and meetings law.

Foresman said, “We’re not going to give folks an advantage from our information.”

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