WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump's budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year includes nearly $125 million for Air Force Special Operations construction projects at Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base's Duke Field, but Rep. Matt Gaetz, a staunch supporter of the president, admitted Wednesday that the proposed outlays could fall victim to the president's declaration of an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump's emergency declaration identifies military construction dollars as part of a mix of funding that could be tapped to build a wall along the border. As long as that declaration remains in place, military construction funding remains vulnerable to being re-purposed for the wall.
"It's not ideal," Gaetz said. But, he added, problems at the southern border, including a flow of drugs into this country, justify the emergency declaration.
And at any rate, Gaetz said, "I'd rather have my (congressional district's) priorities reflected in the president's budget than not reflected in the president's budget (with no chance of getting funded.)"
Gaetz also noted that funding for the local military projects as proposed in the fiscal 2020 budget that begins Oct. 1 won't be assured until the proposals make it through congressional wrangling over the spending plan.
"No one should be uncorking the champagne" just because projects are listed in the proposal, Gaetz said.
Specifically, Trump's budget proposal includes three projects at Hurlburt Field. The proposed outlays encompass a $72.9 million aircraft maintenance unit weapons hangar, $18.9 million for a maintenance training facility and $16.5 million for a combined squadron operations facility.
The remaining $16.5 million for local projects would go to a squadron operations facility at Duke Field.
According to Gaetz, the proposed outlays for Hurlburt Field and Duke Field reflect an expanding role for the C-130 gunship, a mainstay for Air Force special operations.
"There's a change in how the gunships are going to be used," said Gaetz, who noted that they are being deployed more frequently with conventional troops rather than just with special operations personnel.
Elsewhere, the president's budget includes $10 million for enhancements to the Gulf Test Range, which Gaetz has championed as an important part of the country's military infrastructure. The range, covering more more than 120,000 square miles over the Gulf of Mexico, is used by a host of military units, including Eglin's 33rd Fighter Wing and 96th Test Wing, and the Air Force Special Operations Command.
The Gulf Test Range accommodates air combat training, air-to-air missile testing, drone targeting, hypersonic weapons testing and space launches, but is hobbled by aging telemetry equipment used to measure the performance of munitions and equipment. Over the past two fiscal years, Gaetz has been instrumental in getting $70 million allocated to update the range, and he said he hopes to increase the proposed 2020 outlay for the range from $10 million to $35 million.
"The president's budget needs a little help in that space," Gaetz joked.
As far as other military construction in the Panhandle, Getz said it appears more and more likely that the rebuilding of Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, leveled by Hurricane Michael last October, will require Congress to pass a supplemental disaster appropriations bill. Thus far, the Air Force has been steering funding from elsewhere in its budget to the Tyndall recovery effort, which Gaetz said is unsustainable for the long term.
Any supplemental disaster appropriations bill would include funding for Hurricane Michael relief beyond just Tyndall, Gaetz said. He said he and other members of Congress have been working with the federal Office of Management and Budget to develop a supplemental appropriations bill. But, Gaetz said, a risk with a supplemental disaster appropriations proposal is that it could get tied to unrelated legislative issues as it makes its way through Congress.
At a recent congressional subcommittee hearing, John Henderson, an assistant Air Force secretary, pegged the cost of rebuilding Tyndall at $4.7 billion, but Gaetz disputed those figures Wednesday.
"I'm hearing $8 billion to $10 billion," he said.