TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers want the state to appropriate taxpayer money each year for the defense of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and the state's other military installations.
But they also want taxpayers to know how the money is being spent, and that the process for hiring any lobbyists or governmental affairs agents for the task is open and competitive.
With those goals in mind, the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee voted 4-0 on Thursday to advance legislation to create an annual appropriation of no more than $200,000 for the purpose of protecting the state's military installations from possible closures and defense cutbacks.
The current fiscal year state budget included $200,000 for military installation defense, and Gov. Chris Christie's proposed budget for the upcoming 2016 fiscal year also includes that sum for the same purpose.
Supporters of the funding say other states devote money annually to protect their military installations from possible closures or cutbacks. They also stress the installations' importance to New Jersey's economies and to military and civilian workers and families.
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington and Ocean counties is New Jersey's second-largest employer, with more than 44,000 jobs on-site. It is also credited with contributing nearly $7 billion to the state's economy annually.
The other four military installations contribute an additional 29,000 jobs and about $2.6 billion, according to state estimates.
President Barack Obama's proposed military budget for 2016 calls for base closures in 2017, but the Republican-controlled Congress has resisted and put forward defense policy bills prohibiting the Pentagon from taking action to form a Base Realignment and Closure Commission to review federal installations and recommend closures and changes.
New Jersey lawmakers have stressed the need to be proactive in defense of the state's bases.
"This legislation is vital to the thousands of New Jersey's military families whose livelihoods depend on these military bases," said Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra.
"The closing of any of the bases means jobs lost, a rise in the unemployment rate, a decrease in state revenue, and a slower economic recovery than we have already experienced," said Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-7th of Delanco. "This legislation is a step the state must take to help military bases and the communities surrounding them."
Singleton and Conaway introduced the legislation last month, along with co-sponsors Cleopatra Tucker, D-28th of Newark; Adam Taliaferro, D-3rd of Woolwich, and Ronald Dancer, R-12th of Plumsted.
Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, introduced similar legislation in the Senate last year.
To become law, identical bills must be approved by the Assembly and Senate and be signed by the governor.
The Assembly bill was amended Thursday to specify that any contracts for lobbyists to assist the state be awarded through a competitive process every two years.
Another approved amendment requires that an annual report detailing how the appropriated money is spent be posted on the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs' website.
New Jersey has already awarded a $192,000 contract to Washington lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates to begin researching the importance of the installations to the economies of the surrounding communities and the role each installation has on regional and national security.
The firm is expected to issue a report with recommendations on how state, county and local governments can better protect and enhance the installations.
Cassidy & Associates was awarded the contract based on a response to a request for proposals issued by the state for government and public relations work for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
The firm is considered a powerhouse in the area of defense lobbying, and its co-chairman, Barry Rhoads, was previously deputy general counsel to the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Information about Cassidy & Associates' contract was posted on the state Department of Treasury website after the contract was awarded. However, the information does not specify if any other firms responded to the state's request for proposals.