North Carolina rich in soldiers, not in defense spending
A billboard on West Wendover Avenue near the on-ramp to Interstate 40 ‘— one of many across the state ‘— features a row of enlisted men and women underneath the headline: ‘“North Carolina: The Nation’s Most Military-Friendly State.’”
An analysis of the 2005 defense budget suggests that the federal government may not be very friendly to North Carolina, however, when it comes to defense spending.
Paid for by the NC Outdoor Advertising Association and a number of banks that do business in the state, the billboard pays homage to North Carolina’s role as a garrison state, where thousands of soldiers, marines and airmen train to fight, and their families make do without them during deployments to war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘“There’s not a lot of military defense contracting in North Carolina, which is kind of strange because we have a large military presence,’” said Ken Willis, spokesman for Rep. GK Butterfield, a Democrat who represents North Carolina’s 1st District. ‘“We have the second largest number of military families living in North Carolina.
‘“There is a certain economic benefit to that because you have to hire cleaning services, and all the things that you might need to maintain a base,’” he added. ‘“What we don’t enjoy is the big defense contractors that you see in other states.’”
By almost any measure, North Carolina is the most military-friendly state in the nation. According to a 2003 comparison of Pentagon personnel and US Census data, one out of every 100 people in the state is an enlisted member of the armed forces. With 96,560 enlisted men and women in 2003, only California and Texas topped the Tar Heel State in raw numbers.
North Carolina is also home to the nation’s largest military encampment: the Army’s Fort Bragg, with 48,206 military and civilian employees on base ‘— not to mention the fourth largest, the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, with a total of 33,628 military and civilian workers.
Every week brings fresh news, it seems, of soldiers from Fort Bragg killed in combat in the treacherous urban warfare of Iraq.
Compared to the level of sacrifice made by state’s enlisted soldiers, North Carolina receives a pittance in federal defense dollars. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington non-partisan watchdog group that advocates cutting wasteful spending, spent seven months conducting an analysis of the 2005 National Defense Appropriation Act. Their research, which breaks defense spending down by state, indicates that North Carolina ranks dead last for military dollars spent per capita.
Congress’ final conference report for the defense bill indicates that $6.71 was allocated for North Carolina defense projects for every resident of the state. In comparison, other states received hundreds of dollars. The greatest windfall landed on Alaska, with $694.45 per resident; followed by Hawaii, with $382.84; and Mississippi, with $209.03.
Raw politics often determines which states get the lion’s share of federal dollars, not national security priorities, Taxpayers for Common Sense spokesman Keith Ashdown said.
‘“Look who’s on the committees,’” he said. ‘“You may have this big military presence, but you don’t have the representation on the committees to pull down the dollars.’”
In fact, senators from the top three ranking states have secured strategic places on the key Senate Appropriations Committee that decides which defense projects get funding. Sen. Thad Cochrane, a Mississippi Republican, chairs the Appropriations Committee and is a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
Senators from Alaska and Hawaii hold the most influential positions on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee; Alaska Republican Ted Stevens is chairman and Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye is ranking member.
By comparison, North Carolina’s two Republican senators have trouble matching the clout of powerful senators like Cochrane, Stevens and Inouye.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who began her first term in January 2003, is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, Dole played a key role in securing $2.8 million for South Carolina-based Milliken & Co. to develop anti-microbial and odor reduction garments for the Army and Navy in Columbus. She also secured $1 million for a project named ‘smart apparel for warriors,’ which is being contracted to Sara Lee in Winston-Salem.
Sen. Richard Burr, who began his first term in January, is a member of Senate committees that oversee veterans’ affairs, Indian affairs, and energy and natural resources, but none that control defense spending.
Four members of the North Carolina Congressional delegation hold seats on the House Armed Services Committee, but none have much seniority. Reps. Walter B. Jones and Robin Hayes, who are respectively the 11th and 14th-ranked Republicans, have the most sway. Rep. Mike McIntyre, who represents North Carolina’s 7th District, is the 12th ranked Democrat. Rep. Butterfield is the 26th ranked Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
Butterfield’s spokesman, Ken Willis, said the congressman would like to bring defense manufacturing contracts to his district, which covers much of the northeastern section of the state, stretching from Roanoke Rapids and Rocky Mount to Currituck and New Bern on the coast.
‘“There are not a lot of areas where manufacturing jobs are being created in North Carolina ‘— or the nation for that matter ‘— and this is one area of opportunity,’” he said. ‘“It’s a poor and rural district, and it’s difficult to create jobs.’”
Willis said that, in his view, North Carolina’s failure to compete effectively for defense projects is more a case of not having the economic base than not having the political clout. For instance, the Tar Heel State doesn’t have the tradition of shipbuilding that has anchored Maine and Virginia’s economies, or the aerospace industry that helped Texas and California’s economies take off after World War II.
Willis pointed to Rep. David Price, a Democrat who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, as an effective advocate for his district, which covers much of the Triangle. Price is credited by Taxpayers for Common Sense with helping the University of North Carolina secure $1.5 million to conduct electronic sensor research for the Army.
Rep. Howard Coble, whose district includes parts of Greensboro, appears to have helped steer two defense projects to the state, even though he does not sit on either the Appropriations or Armed Services committees. The taxpayer group credits Coble with securing $2.5 million for Greensboro-based RF Micro Devices on something called gallium nitrate technology for the Air Force. Coble is also credited ‘— along with Democratic Reps. Price, Mel Watt and Brad Miller ‘— with earmarking $3.4 million for the Guilford Genomic Medicine Project, a research project to be conducted by the University of North Carolina and Duke University in Guilford County.
Even with a million spent here and a million spent there, these projects hardly stack up against the $200 million earmarked for research on communications systems for the ballistic missile program at Fort Greely in Alaska, or even the $15 million secured by Sen. Inouye for technology upgrades at the Maui High Performance Computing Center.
‘“We would like to find a way to bring those military contracts to North Carolina,’” Willis said.
To comment on this story, contact Jordan Green at email@example.com.