Support military presence that bolsters our economy

By U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, Star-Advertiser: Insight, 1/19/2015

As one of the newest members of Congress, I am honored to serve the constituency of the 1st Congressional District of Hawaii. There are many pressing issues that Congress needs to address, including comprehensive immigration reform, surface transportation funding, a reform of our tax system, and preservation of the Social Security system that supports our kupuna, to name a few.

We need to put aside the partisan gridlock that has plagued Congress for too long and get to work. That is what we were elected to do.

My first week in Congress climaxed with a key appointment to the House Armed Services Committee. Among my priorities during my time in Washington is the preservation of military force structure in Hawaii. Defense spending in Hawaii makes up around 18 percent of the state’s economy, and affects every other economic sector. So while I agree that we need to search for ways to diversify our economic income to other areas, a gradual transition is necessary, which makes it crucially important to preserve what we have now.

Across-the-board spending cuts will return in 2016 and beyond, forcing the military to make tough decisions about where and when it will sustain the reductions. The Army must cut its overall force structure by almost 80,000 to achieve the savings required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. While a last-minute budget deal staved off some of the most harmful cuts in 2014 and 2015, we cannot anticipate these last-minute solutions to continue if we only kick the can down the road.

Last year, the Army outlined the Army Force Structure 2020 Realignment initiative. Though no final decision has been made, a worst-case scenario was laid out that would be catastrophic for Hawaii. This option would result in a reduction of approximately 20,000 soldiers and civilians from Fort Shafter and Schofield Barracks, along with another 30,000 of their family members. The communities on the west side of Oahu around Schofield Barracks would lose approximately 30 percent of their population, causing an annual economic loss to the state of about $1.35 billion.

Cuts like this would harm Hawaii’s economy, put many communities around these bases at risk, and be out of line with our recently adjusted national defense strategy. Army leadership will be in Hawaii on Jan. 27 and 28 to hear what communities surrounding military installations have to say, and it is critical that community members show up to voice our opinions.

The Army force structure initiative is only the beginning, though, as across-the-board spending cuts contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011 provide no long-term, responsible fix for our nation’s fiscal woes. These reductions in spending eventually will begin to affect other areas of Hawaii’s economy, which makes it all-important to seek alternatives to the mindless cuts we have used over the past few years.

During my time in Congress, I plan to focus on responsible, efficient initiatives that will cut wasteful spending while preserving the funding for one of the economic engines of our state. My service on key committees like Armed Services will put me in a position to advocate for Hawaii priorities. These efficiencies can then serve as a way to reduce our nation’s deficit, without harming national security and putting our state’s communities at risk.