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House prepares to tackle economic conversion.

The house is scheduled to take up the defense authorization bill as early as this week, for the first time authorizing a significant economic conversion program and a possible NLC-supported amendment to ease the transfer of closed military bases and facilities to neighboring communities.

The administration has proposed no economic conversion plan and opposed legislation to facilitate the transfer of closed bases to surrounding cities and towns.

The $274 billion measure, HR 5006, comes just two weeks after House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wisc.) urged that the $7 billion in savings from the President's defense request to the Congress be converted into urban aid, and three weeks after a panel of NLC witnesses testified in support of legislation by Rep. Richard Ray (D-Ga.) to facilitate the transfer of military bases to adjacent communities.

As reported out of committee, Aspin's bill includes $1 billion for an unspecified economic conversion program to assist communities and individuals affected by the closure of military bases and military contracts. Democrats from the Armed Services are drafting a detailed plan to provide grants out of these funds for private technology companies and to pay the salaries of displaced military personnel who teach mathematics and science in public schools. It is unclear whether the plan these Democrats are drafting would provide any direct assistance to adversely affected communities.

But Aspin has indicated he is willing to consider increasing the amount to apply toward municipal assistance. Noting that his bill authorizes $7 billion less in Pentagon spending than the President requested, Aspin has suggested that the difference be applied to aid cities through as yet undefined programs that would be counted as defense expenditures. That would avoid violating the 1990 budget agreement.

In addition, Ray has indicated he plans to modify his base transfer legislation, HR 4024 and 4025, to reflect the comments of city officials and offer it as an amendment to the defense bill. As planned, the Ray amendment would speed up the transfer of closed bases to local communities, allow at least partial transfers of such properties before total environmental cleanup, and indemnify any municipal or private persons taking over such bases for reuse to help communities convert bases more quickly and without assuming environmental liabilities.

Congressman Ray's bill is specifically directed at eliminating several existing and potential problems that are delaying reuse closed bases. His bill would:

* permit the sale of land before all environmental cleanup was finished, provided the cleanup had commenced, the deed of sale assured access for any further cleanup activities, and the federal government agreed to continue diligent cleanup until complete;

* would clarify that the federal government can subdivide property for sale or lease--including property on the Superfund priorities list - so that clean and safe parcels could be reused; and

* would require the Defense Department to ideminify local governments and potential investors from any future liability arising from the defense waste.

Senate efforts

The Senate is expected to take up its version of the defense bill in late June, when it expects to consider proposals coming from a group of 22 Democratic Senators on economic conversion headed by Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.) and an alternative being developed by a group of 13 Republican Senators headed up by Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.).
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Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 25, 1992
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