Originally created 11/24/03

Base closures lead Perdue to take requests



ATLANTA - Christmas might be more than a month away, but Gov. Sonny Perdue is already busy trying to fulfill the wish lists of the commanders of the 13 military bases in Georgia.

The reason is simple: Their 35,000 civilian jobs could leave if the Department of Defense concludes next year that Georgia bases should be closed. Together, they have a $25 billion impact on the state's economy, and they are generally undiminished by the recessions the private sector shrinks from.

Morris News Service has acquired a list of the commanders' requests and what Mr. Perdue's staff is doing to quickly address them.

Next month the Pentagon will draft a list of criteria determining how to pick which bases to close in a cost-cutting move. Plans call for shedding roughly one of every four posts, meaning if they are distributed evenly, Georgia would lose as many as three installations.

To stave off the reaper, Mr. Perdue, like governors in other states, has been busy finding out how to be more hospitable. He convened an all-day meeting Sept. 5 at the Governor's Mansion to hear what commanders had in mind.

Then he assigned his senior staff to address each request and keep him posted on the progress.

"One of the biggest issues that has been raised by the commanders is the quality of education," said Patrick Moore, Mr. Perdue's point man on the project.

The Department of Defense is phasing out the schools it operates on bases in the United States since local government already provides schools. But military families move often, causing some parents to fear their children will fall behind those at their next post if they have to go to Georgia schools while they are stationed in the Peach State.

The governor will also lobby the state Board of Education to waive eighth-grade Georgia history requirements for graduation when military dependents transfer into the state. He'll also push them to change the way they credit courses taken by military children while based in Texas.

One education issue won't please the commanders.

They requested relaxed eligibility requirements for the HOPE scholarship so military children can attend Georgia colleges after their parents have left for another posting or never established residency in the state.

"That's a great lure to put out there," said Eddie Wiggins, a Warner Robins car dealer who has been an avid supporter for the Robins Air Force Base during past rounds of base closures.

But money for HOPE is tight, and Mr. Perdue is looking at ways to restrict it rather than expand it.

"Probably a no go for the near future," reads a Nov. 10 report by his staff on the progress of each request.

That's not the only nonstarter.

Tax breaks for reservists' and guardsmen's duty pay, and the elimination of sales taxes on supplies used to facilitate base operations all would be too costly, according to the staff report.

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424.