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Bush: State seeks all of Virginia base

He's willing to commit up to $200-million to reopening Cecil Field only for the 11,500 jobs a total move would bring, he tells lawmakers.

By Associated Press
Published September 15, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Florida is committed to reopening Cecil Field, a former Naval air station at Jacksonville, only if a Virginia base is entirely closed and moved there, not just part of it, Gov. Jeb Bush told lawmakers Wednesday.

Shifting about 11,500 military and civilian jobs to Cecil from Oceana Naval Air Station, Va., would make Florida the biggest winner in the national military base realignment and closure process, Bush told the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

He said he expects to call a special legislative session to cement a $200-million state-local commitment to help reopen Cecil. Bush said he told commissioners the offer is good only if all of Oceana's planes and personnel move to Florida.

"We're not going to ask the city of Jacksonville and the state of Florida to make a financial commitment and get half a jet base, or get the winter home of the East Coast jet base or get half a loaf," Bush told the committee.

Bush said the state would pay up to $150-million and the city $50-million toward relocating businesses that have leased space at Cecil since it closed in 1999. The actual cost may be lower, particularly if Boeing, which does maintenance on Navy F/A-18 Hornet jets at Cecil, remains there.

The commission sent its recommendations to President Bush, the governor's brother, without a final resolution of the Oceana-Cecil issue.

The panel agreed to leave Oceana open only if Virginia and local governments take steps by March 31 to reduce safety problems in crash zones near the base, including condemning 1,800 houses.

Bush was worried that the Pentagon rather than the commission would decide whether those conditions are met.

"Any time that you have a decisionmaking process where political influence has a lot to do with it, it improves Oceana's chances," Bush said later.

"Oceana wasn't closed maybe when it should have because of politics," he said. "Cecil was closed when it shouldn't have been because of politics. If it's based on national security interest, then we do better."

Even without Cecil, Florida is among the biggest winners in the process with a net gain of 3,720 jobs, said retired Adm. Robert Natter, the state's paid base realignment consultant.

Pensacola was Florida's biggest loser with a job cut of about 1,100. Natter said it could have been worse. Commissioners rejected a Pentagon proposal to move the Naval Education and Training Command from Pensacola Naval Air Station and nearby Saufley Field to Millington, Tenn.

[Last modified September 15, 2005, 01:04:09]

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