Politics & Government

Scott Air Force Base project could be cut to pay for border wall construction

Dick Durbin says Trump’s border wall emergency will hurt the military

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin spoke on the floor of the Senate to encourage fellow Senators to vote against approving Donald Trump's border wall emergency because of how it will hurt the military.
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Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin spoke on the floor of the Senate to encourage fellow Senators to vote against approving Donald Trump's border wall emergency because of how it will hurt the military.

Among the military construction projects that could be cut, or at least delayed, in order to pay for a wall on the southern border of the United States is a $41 million communications facility expansion at Scott Air Force Base.

A $5 million automated record fire range for the Illinois Army National Guard in Marseilles and a new $9 million fire rescue facility in Peoria are also military construction projects that could be affected in order to build a border wall.

The three projects were among the $12.9 billion worth of military construction projects that could be sacrificed in order to pay for a border wall, according to a list released by the Department of Defense.

The $41 million project at Scott, which includes more than doubling space in an existing building that was built in 1983, was approved as the fiscal year 2017 military construction appropriations, according to Army Corps of Engineers documents.

Scott AFB
Scott Air Force Base Provided

Plans include updating the electrical and heating and air conditioning systems “to facilitate reliable communications for the installation and its missions,” said Karen Petitt, chief of public affairs for the 375th Air Mobility Wing, based at Scott.

“The list merely highlights projects that haven’t been awarded as of Dec. 31, 2018, and does not foreshadow a loss of funding,” Petitt said. “Projects scheduled to be awarded prior to Sept. 30, 2019, are exempted, as are those related to military dormitories or barracks.”

Not all of the projects will be subject to cuts, the Defense Department wrote, which would make it difficult to determine exactly which would be vulnerable.

President Donald Trump has vetoed a measure passed by Congress meant to overturn his national emergency declaration on the southern border.

The president has called for $8.6 billion in his fiscal year 2020 budget proposal to pay for a border wall.

Last year he wanted $5.7 billion, but was rebuffed, which led to a partial government shut down earlier this year, which lasted 35 days.

Illinois Congressman John Shimkus talks about funding the wall with Defense Department money and how that could affect local military contracts,

Shimkus supports emergency declaration

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said he plans to vote to sustain Trump’s veto.

“There is an emergency on the southern border,” Shimkus said. “If you can do a national emergency for the swine flu, if you could do it for disruption in ... Congo in Africa, if you could do an emergency declaration for other African countries, surely you could do one for the crisis on the southern border. You have 400,000 people illegally enter our country on the southern border that should be of a concern.”

He said the issues on the southern border would be solved with fencing, increased use of technology, stronger border security, more immigration judges to hear cases and immigration reform.

However, when it comes to the military construction projects, Shimkus said they may only be delayed and eventually will take place as part of future appropriations. He added any project at Scott Air Force Base is important.

“This is money now that can be appropriated in the next budgetary cycle,” Shimkus said. “Don’t get me wrong, no one is going to like (military construction) dollars being taken from approved locations, but you have to go back, is this a crisis? What really what would have stopped taking this money out of (military construction) is if we had voted on it at the end of the year, instead of it being politicized as we did.”

Illinois Republican Congressman John Shimkus talks about national emergency, border security, and immigration. Shimkus continues his support for President Trump's national emergency at the border.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, called taking money from military construction projects as “reckless” and “irresponsible” that said it will hurt military readiness.

“To be clear, Donald Trump is proposing stealing funding that Congress appropriated for critical national defense projects in Illinois and across the country in order to fund a vanity project that he promised Mexico would pay for,” Duckworth said. “This is a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars that is downright harmful to our nation.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said the military will suffer if the construction projects are put on hold.

“Republicans and Democrats in the Senate chose the Constitution over the president’s so-called ‘national emergency’ declaration,” Durbin said in a statement after the president’s veto. “The president chose his ‘big and beautiful’ wall over the needs of the U.S. military.”

Scott Air Force Base is in U.S. Rep. Mike Bost’s congressional district. Bost, R-Murphysboro, has been a supporter of the national emergency declaration.

“We’ve been in close contact with the Pentagon and been assured that projects on the list are not necessarily targets for a reduction or redirection of funding,” Bost said in a statement. “In fact, all of the nearly 150 military construction projects listed were simply done so because they fit an expansive technical funding category, not based on the projects’ merit or any detailed analysis. Any final funding decision for this project would require significant examination, and my office is monitoring the situation closely to ensure Scott’s mission is fully funded.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.

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