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National Guard on pins and needles over state and federal budget uncertainty

By RUSTY MARKS

The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general for the state of West Virginia and commander of the West Virginia National Guard, is upset.

“Apparently, I have failed the men and women of the National Guard,” Hoyer said from his office in Charleston. “I have apparently failed to adequately articulate to the Legislature the effect that budget cuts would have to our operations.”

It is a statement the state’s highest-ranking military officer repeated several times during a discussion about budgetary worries.

The budget bill passed by the Legislature cut funding for the National Guard by about $750,000. And while Gov. Jim Justice vetoed that budget and will call lawmakers back to work out a new budget, there is no guarantee members of the Senate and House of Delegates will be able to agree.

A government shutdown on both the state and federal level is a real possibility, Hoyer said.

“We could not have a federal budget, and not have a state budget at the same time,” he said.

State of the state

Hoyer said House Bill 2018, the heavily amended budget bill passed in the waning hours of the regular legislative session, directly cut funding for the National Guard by about $500,000. However, lawmakers also passed a bill transferring oversight of the Civil Air Patrol to the National Guard.Hoyer said the Legislature was supposed to transfer $250,000 in funding to the National Guard to cover the expense of the change, but that transfer never happened. He said without any changes, the total effect of the cuts and unfunded Civil Air Patrol transfer means the National Guard will have about $750,000 less than in the current fiscal year that ends in July.But because the West Virginia National Guard is better at leveraging federal matching funds than many National Guard organizations, losing $750,000 in state funding adds up to a loss of about $14 million in federal money. That level of cuts “could severely impact our ability to carry out our mission,” Hoyer said.

The West Virginia National Guard employs about 6,600 military personnel and civilians, he said.

National Guard personnel do everything from rebuilding aircraft engines to refurbishing tents and rebuilding wheel assemblies for military vehicles, saving the federal government millions of dollars a year.

But the National Guard also is the state’s first line of defense in a natural disaster like the June 23, 2016, flood that killed more than 20 people and destroyed or damaged thousands of homes and businesses in the state. Personnel from the West Virginia National Guard also are frequently called upon to help regular military units overseas.

Hoyer said no state National Guard units are currently stationed in a war zone, but units are expected to be deployed soon.

Hoyer said he has two National Guard programs he intends to continue at all costs.

One is a state policy to pay 100 percent of the tuition costs of Guard members who want to take college classes. The other is the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy, a last-ditch academic boot camp for troubled students that has turned around the lives of thousands of teenagers who might not have otherwise have graduated from high school, Hoyer said.

“I have to protect the tuition program, and I have to protect the ChalleNGe Academy,” he said. After that, it would be time to start looking at what the National Guard could cut back.

Hoyer said continued state budget cuts could mean curtailing or shutting down National Guard armories. Planned expansions and new programs could be put on hold. Hiring new personnel could be stopped.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said he believes the Legislature will try to restore the National Guard budget cuts as they work out a budget compromise with Justice. While Republican leadership is leery of adding expenses to the state budget, he said the intention is to keep funding for the National Guard at its current level.

But Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, chairman of the House Finance Committee, said funding for the National Guard will depend on what Justice proposes when he calls the Legislature back into session. The budget deal under discussion leading into the special session includes an increase in the state sales tax. But whether the Legislature goes along with the plan is in doubt.

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, has repeatedly said the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates will not vote for a tax increase. Failure of the Legislature to agree on a budget could lead to a shutdown of state government.
Trump card

Hoyer is equally concerned about a federal shutdown. Eight years of congressional gridlock under former President Barack Obama could continue under President Donald Trump, some fear.Hoyer said running the National Guard under continuing budget resolutions “doesn’t allow us to budget operations the way the Department of Defense is structured.”The United States military, including National Guard units, are currently operating under a continuing resolution that expired at the end of April.

“I don’t believe since I’ve been adjutant general that we’ve had a budget delivered on time at the federal level,” said Hoyer, who has been adjutant general since 2011.

Hoyer said a federal government shutdown would mean immediately placing about 1,200 state National Guard personnel on furlough. He said senior staff for the U.S. Army have issued a directive that all training stop July 1. If West Virginia National Guard members were to deploy overseas, Hoyer said, there would be no way to train them.

John Stapleton, communications director for U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said McKinley is “fighting hard and working with Congressional leaders to avoid an unnecessary government shutdown that would have any kind of negative impact on West Virginia.”

National Guard commanders are so concerned about continued operations under continuing budget resolutions that they have sent letters to majority and minority leaders in the U.S. Senateand House of Representatives all but begging them to agree on a federal budget.

“On behalf of the nearly 45,000 members of the National Guard Association of the United States, we urge Congress to pass a fiscal year 2017 budget and defense appropriations bill to fund the Department of Defense,” association president J. Roy Robinson wrote in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York; House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin; and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

Robinson said another continuing resolution could force state National Guard units to cancel training and put off military exercises needed to get personnel ready for deployment.

“We are writing to implore you to avoid a government shutdown and pass an appropriations bill not constrained by the Budget Control Act,” members of the Adjutant General Association of the United States wrote in a letter to federal House and Senate leaders. Running military organizations on continuing resolutions wreaks havoc on budgeting and operations, they said.

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