Defense concerns aired

Published 10:16 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Participants at a listening session at Chesapeake Conference Center Monday heard how defense cuts would “devastate” local economies and national security, painting a possible bleak future for Suffolk and the rest of Hampton Roads.

Automatic cuts to the $531 billion Department of Defense budget of $50 billion per year for 10 years — so-called sequestration — will reportedly take effect if lawmakers in Washington don’t reach a deal to reduce the federal deficit by January.

The more than 500-strong audience at Monday’s Defending Our Defenders event, co-chaired by Virginia congressmen Randy Forbes, Scott Rigell and Rob Wittman, heard that the contingency plan would gut the military and devastate Hampton Roads’ economy more than almost any other.

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Among several expert speakers, George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis Director Stephen Fuller used statistics to drive home his view that Virginia — and Hampton Roads more specifically — would be hit harder than anywhere else.

Fuller said about 32 percent of Virginia’s economy comes from federal government spending, accounting for $17,000 per capita.

Defense spending is “the biggest piece of this,” he added, with 10 percent of all DoD spending occurring in Virginia.

“These are jobs on Main Street — retail, education, health — as federal dollars trickle down,” he said.

“(The) DoD generates a $1.1-billion benefit to the state treasury (annually). On average, (with sequestration) we would lose 10 percent of economic growth for the next 10 years; 92 percent would come out of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.”

Forbes, whose congressional district includes part of Suffolk and is home to many defense contractors, said the cuts would significantly reduce the military’s ability to defend America in an age when Russia and China are raising defense spending.

He said the average U.S. Air Force bomber is already more than 50 years old.

“Sometimes we have pilots whose grandfathers actually flew those planes,” he said.

For the Navy, he said, eight years out from sequestration, Chinese subs could far outnumber American subs.

“One-hundred and fifty thousand to 200,000 pink slips would be given to men and women in uniform, the equivalent of wiping out the entire Marine Corps in one fell swoop,” he said.

Forbes said the “real 1 percent” is not on Wall Street. “One percent of the men and women in this country every day put on their uniform and go and defend and protect all the rest of us,” he said. “It’s time we stood up for them.”

He said sequestration would devastate defense infrastructure. “Get rid of the facilities, and we can never afford to build them back up again,” he said.

“The state that gets impacted the worst is right here where we live.”

Defending Our Defenders listening sessions are planned for 20 states “to try to create a record that we can bring back to Washington to tell them just how devastating we believe these cuts are going to be,” Forbes said.