Hill closure scenarios trouble Utah legislators

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:33 PM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY — The fiscal sky may be falling, but a Democratic lawmaker insists there will be life in the Top of Utah even if Hill Air Force Base closes sometime in the future.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, told a Federal Funds Commission committee Tuesday future planning about the potential impact to the region shouldn’t go too far. He worries about overreacting to closure scenarios as well.

Briscoe, a former teacher at Bountiful High School, addressed the impact of a possible closure of Hill on Top of Utah schools as part of the what-if discussions held by the group to prepare or plan for potential federal budget cuts.

“What would we do if Hill Air Force Base closes? Northridge High School, Layton High School and to a lesser extent Syracuse High School would be impacted. Weber and Ogden school districts would also be impacted,” Briscoe said.

“What should our response be? Should we close that school because we know some day it might close and farm those kids out? In the meantime those kids come to school every day, they need teachers,” Briscoe said.

The Salt Lake County lawmaker said the impact of any single action isn’t always isolated and easy to predict. He shared a story from China of Mao Zedong taking chemical action to kill pigeons in Beijing, only to see that action lead to the loss of vegetation in the city. Years later, the vegetation is just beginning to return, he said.

“There are people who have lost Air Force bases and turned them into economic development opportunities. Some of that is going on base now. The more complex the system, the more it has an impact over there,” Briscoe said.

Briscoe and other group members heard reports from state fiscal analysts about potential trigger points for a loss in funding.

Jonathan Ball, state fiscal analyst, said there are a lot of potential triggers that could spur a loss of federal funding locally. He listed another sequestration and the United States’ credit rating as the top bets to potentially ignite a drop in access to federal funds.

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said the purpose of the group is not just to try to prevent potential cuts, but to get their arms around potential risks in order to help the state stay ahead of the curve.

Besides lawmakers, the Funds Commission includes city and county leaders and representatives from chambers of commerce. The group has been charged with creating a comprehensive plan to deal with a reduction in federal funding.

Lawmakers insist that with the federal government spending 40 cents of every dollar on borrowing, the pattern of federal funding to state programs is unsustainable.

“If we’re doing this financial earthquake exercise, how do we deliver otherwise or synergize with others?” Ivory said of state programs. “These are the kind of tough questions to try and ask and answer now, before we are in the earthquake we hope never comes.”

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