SALT LAKE CITY — Utah gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke brought a big name in saving U.S. Air Force Bases to Utah on Tuesday, underlining his campaign message that Utah must be proactive if it wants to save Hill AFB from closure in 2015.
Oklahoma County Commissioner Ray Vaughn told Utah media that various government entities and the local chamber of commerce combined forces to bolster the position of Tinker AFB in the last few years.
Due to those efforts, Tinker AFB was elevated in status to leadership on a three-star general level. At the same time, Hill AFB was demoted to a two-star level and lost about 200 jobs.
Another round of Base Realignment and Closure is coming in 2015, and it could be especially harsh due to funding cuts going on throughout the military.
“Employees come to work (at Tinker AFB) from 44 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. We would do almost anything to support it,” Vaughn said.
Oklahoma’s efforts included buying a $55 million bond to purchase a shuttered three million square foot General Motors plant. It is now on a 50-year lease to the Air Force. Vaughn estimated the military has spent about $100 million to upgrade the plant. About 800
jobs have been created since 2008, when it took control of the facility.
“Most of the base’s buildings are World War II or Korea vintage, and a number are deficient,” he said adding, “We got the base out of horrible (working) conditions” in some cases.
The bond required increased property taxes, but 53 percent of voters supported it.
“Citizens there have a long history of supporting the base,” Vaughn said.
Cooke, a retired Army General, also spoke.
“(Oklahoma) took a risk with a public/private partnership,” Cooke said. “The Air Force is looking long term for 50 years,” the length of the old GM plant’s lease.
By contrast, all Utah’s leadership appears to be saying is that “the base is being run very well,” Cooke said.
For more information check out the Oct.4 edition of Davis Clipper.