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Budgetary flak: Florida's military bases hope to avoid cuts

F-35 Lightning II
An F-35 Lightning II flies over Destin before landing at its new home at Eglin Air Force Base. [Photo: Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago/U.S. Air Force]

Northwest Florida economic strategists aren't keen on the possibility of another Base Realignment and Closure round in 2013. But they're even more worried about the possibility of across-the-board military cuts that could hit sooner.

President Obama's 2013 budget proposal calls for $487 billion in military budget reductions over the next 10 years. He has also asked for Department of Defense authority to establish additional rounds of BRAC.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, campaigning for possibly two BRAC rounds, has told lawmakers that unless Congress acts by the summer to present a deficit-reduction plan, cuts would begin automatically by law next January and produce an additional $500 billion in savings.

If reductions are made in the context of BRAC, "I'm not worried about Florida at all," says former Northwest Florida State College Vice President David Goetsch, chairman of the statewide Florida Defense Support Task Force and of the Economic Development Council for Okaloosa County.

But across-the-board cuts, says Goetsch, are "the big bugaboo hanging out there. It's cutting with a very dull hatchet. That's why the military wants a BRAC — they know where they want to cut."

The military accounts for 25% of northwest Florida's gross regional output, compared to 3% to 14% in other Florida regions, according to the University of West Florida Haas Center. In Eglin Air Force Base-centered Okaloosa County, the military contributes 47% of economic activity.

Congressional lethargy, BRAC costs and the fact that it's an election year make a BRAC round look unlikely until 2015, says Goetsch.

As for across-the-board cuts, Florida can only hope that budget plans put forth by the president and the Pentagon will focus on Army and Marine Corps units, since Florida's military is mostly Navy and Air Force. "We would still be hurt," however, Goetsch says, because "every base will get cut.”

U.S. Airforce
[Photo: Samuel King Jr./U.S. Air Force]
Military/Civilian Federal Workforce
County Workers % of Total Employment
Okaloosa 24,497 18.5%
Escambia 15,762 8.6
Bay 8,329 8.0
Santa Rosa 2,152 4.2
Source: 2010 Florida Defense Industry Economic Impact Analysis, Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development, University of West Florida. Figures are 2010 estimates.