By Kirk Carapezza
A state lawmaker from Winooski has introduced a resolution that asks the Air Force to remove Vermont from a short list of potential locations where it would base the F-35 stealth fighter jet.
Rep. George Cross, D-Winooski, the lead sponsor of the non-binding question, which has more than 30 co-sponsors, is introducing it as the Vermont Air Guard and the Pentagon face deep budget cuts that could affect the Guard’s chances of being chosen to host the next generation F-35 in South Burlington.
At a news conference at the Statehouse on Thursday, Cross said he hopes to find widespread support outside of Chittenden County, although he recognized his bill faces a steep climb in the House.
“There’s going to be several rounds of basing decisions, and we ought to skip this first round until we know more about this plane and can make a wise and informed decision,” said Cross.
Cross dismissed proponents’ claims that the F-35 was a job-creator for Chittenden County – and Vermont. “I guess you have to make a choice,” Cross said. “Are you going to believe the Air Force, or are you going to believe the politicians and the military industrial complex?”
In 2010, the Legislature overwhelmingly passed a resolution in support of basing the jets in Chittenden County.
South Burlington City Council chairwoman Rosanne Greco implored the Legislature to reverse that decision, examine new information regarding the F-35 and support the resolution.
Despite local opposition and concerns about noise, the Air Force says it still considers the Vermont National Guard base at Burlington International Airport a preferred location for new F-35s when the existing fleet of F-16s is phased out as early as 2020.
In December, Gov. Peter Shumlin, a big supporter of the jets coming to Vermont, traveled to Eglin Air Force base in Florida to address residents’ concerns back home that the most expensive weapon system in history is too loud compared to the F-16s. Shumlin said he was surprised how quiet the F-35s were.
Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding reiterated on Thursday the governor hasn’t heard anything that would convince him to drop out of the first round of decisions. “It could jeopardize our ability to host the F-35,” Spaulding said. “I believe the community at-large is supportive of basing the F-35s [in South Burlington].”
In a statement on Thursday, Brig. General Steve Cray, who is campaigning for adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, said he’s aware of the proposal to delay basing the fighter jets in Vermont and he opposes it.
“I am very proud of the men and women of the Vermont Air National Guard having done their part to make us a preferred basing location for the F35,” Cray wrote in an email. “The basing of this aircraft in Burlington is an investment in Vermont for at least the next 30 years.”
“Public comment after the final [Environmental Impact Statement] is an important part of the Air Force basing process,” Cray added.
Frank Cioffi, president of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corp., also opposes the measure. “We would encourage legislators not to act on a resolution that potentially could lead to the elimination of 1,100 jobs in this economy and hurt the working women and men of the Vermont Air Guard and their families.”
The Air Force is expected to announce its decision this spring about whether to base up to 24 F-35s with the Vermont Air Guard.
Through a separate bill, Rep. Cross wants to create a fund to compensate homeowners who would be affected in the event Vermont is chosen. Meanwhile, Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, said he is planning to introduce a Senate resolution similar to Cross’ early in the legislative session.
VPR News: F-35