Springfield State Journal-Register

February 3, 2004

Local Guard facility part of Bush budget


WASHINGTON - As part of its Defense Department budget request for fiscal 2005, the Bush administration is seeking $13.6 million for an Army National Guard regional training building in Springfield.

The planned new facility, to be built at Camp Lincoln, would be used to train 2,089 students a year after it's completed in February 2007.

The National Guard uses a state Department of Corrections facility for its regional training. The new building would include 11 classrooms, a dining facility, lodging for 240, a laundry room and a multi-purpose recreation room. It's one of the Guard's top construction priorities in the state, said spokeswoman Lt. Col. Alicia Tate-Nadeau.

The proposed spending is in a $2.4 trillion overall budget President Bush unveiled Monday. It emphasizes homeland security and defense while slicing scores of programs from prisons to arts education in the face of record federal deficits and the costs of war.

His budget chief warned a fresh request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could reach $50 billion.

The election-year blueprint would pour funds into the military, domestic security and some education and health initiatives. It provides the first dollars for what ultimately could be a hugely expensive effort to visit Mars and renews his call for making permanent the tax cuts he has shoved through Congress.

Handcuffed by shortfalls he projects will surge to an unprecedented $521 billion this year, the spare plan for 2005 offers few dramatic initiatives. It is aimed mostly at familiar Bush priorities such as war, terrorism, the economy and struggling schools plus a new goal: halving the deficit in five years, which he projects he will achieve with a 2009 shortfall of $237 billion.

"I'm confident our budget addresses a very serious situation," he said at a Cabinet meeting. "And that is that we are at war and we had dealt with a recession. And our budget is able to address those significant factors in a way that reduces the deficit in half."

Last year's deficit hit $375 billion, the highest ever in dollar terms. Though Bush projects next year's red ink at $364 billion, that excludes U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which White House budget director Joshua Bolten said could hit an "upper limit" of another $50 billion.

"Hopefully the needs will be less, but it will all depend entirely on the security situation," Bolten said.

Administration officials say that request would come next year - after this November's presidential and congressional elections.

The White House request proposes far less in highway funding than Illinois lawmakers are seeking. And while it would boost education expenditures, it wouldn't meet the levels authorized in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"This may be the worst federal budget I've seen in 20 years," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters Monday in Springfield. "It's not compassionate, it's not conservative and it's not credible."

A budget that shifts dollars from domestic programs to defense initiatives would provide little funding to the Midwest and Northeast because those regions have few military bases or defense contractors, according to an analysis by the Northeast-Midwest Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit research organization.

The president's proposed spending plan includes substantial cuts to programs important to the region including manufacturing, community development, water infrastructure, Amtrak and programs that protect against invasive species, the analysis said.

However, Congress typically alters presidents' budget requests substantially during the appropriations process, so many lawmakers hold their initial fire.

"In the end, much of what the president sends up will be reshaped according to what the Congress is interested in," said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, who is on the House Appropriations Committee.

LaHood supports the president's dual goals of reducing the deficit and making the income tax cuts permanent. But he said the budget proposal puts considerable pressure on Congress to reduce spending.

One of Illinois lawmakers' top priorities is to capture more funding for the state's road projects when Congress reauthorizes the nation's six-year transportation program.

Bush proposes to spend $256 billion over the next six years on transportation programs, while the Senate seeks $318 billion and House Transportation Committee leaders propose spending $375 billion.

"The transportation number has got to be higher in order to accommodate all the needs that we have in Illinois and around the country, and I suspect that Congress will figure out a way to increase that," LaHood said.

The White House is asking for $900 million for Amtrak, the same level it requested for this fiscal year. Congress approved $1.2 billion of the $1.8 billion that Amtrak requested for fiscal 2004.

Amtrak serves 30 Illinois communities and carries about 2 million riders annually in the state. Amtrak officials are expected to release new estimates of their funding needs next week.

The largest cuts proposed by the Bush administration would come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The president's budget plan would slow implementation of conservation programs that are in high demand by Midwest farmers, the institute's analysis concluded. Funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program would increase from $975 million to $985 million under the Bush plan. But that's $215 million less than the $1.2 billion for fiscal 2005 required by the 2002 farm law, according to the institute.

Bush's budget also would reduce funding to states for water infrastructure improvements.

In one of the few areas of the vast federal budget that identifies specific local projects, the proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' budget includes $600,000 for the Illinois River basin and ecosystem restoration and $32,000 for an ongoing study aimed at controlling sediment at Beardstown.