National Guard budget on chopping block

Tuesday, February 4, 2003

A military executive from Jefferson City, Mo., was in Cape Girardeau recently, the bearer of ominous news: If the state's budget situation doesn't improve, the Missouri National Guard could be forced to close some of its armories.

Lt. Col. Dennis Cruts told current and former Guard soldiers on Jan. 25 that the Cape Girardeau armory is "probably safe" because of its size and wide area of coverage, so there is probably little reason for our local part-time service men to worry.

But, Cruts warned, if the state's anticipated $1 billion budget shortfall in the next fiscal year doesn't get rectified, "some tough decisions are going to have to be made."

Gov. Bob Holden's recommended budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 calls for cutting Guard funding to $5.5 million from $6.7 million, which is a 17.8 percent decrease. Over the past two years, the Guard's budget have been cut 28 percent.

The Guard already has eliminated programs and reduced the number of full-time employees, mostly through attrition, and some armories are going without janitors.

The Guard hopes the economy will turn around or the governor will find a way to fill the budget shortfall.

Regardless, the National Guard does a good job and is certainly worthy of funding, especially considering that more than 90 percent of its funding comes from the federal government. Look at the 1140th Engineer Battalion's plans for this summer, when it will send its 340 Guardsmen from Southeast Missouri to Panama to help build medical clinics and roads. Residents who live in flood-prone areas also can attest to the Guard's value over the years.

Not to mention that now, especially, the Guard units need to be ready and at full strength to help their full-time counterparts should they be counted on to serve in Iraq or someplace else in our fight against terrorism.

The Guard is obviously needed, and it's good news that the Cape Girardeau armory is, in all likelihood, safe.

Having said that, there is another point here.

Cruts' visit also serves as foreshadowing. Setting the Guard and its importance aside for a moment, communities from all across the state should prepare themselves for future visits from representatives from every governmental nook and cranny, extolling their department's services and pleading to be spared from budgetary cuts.

That's unfortunate, but Missouri has dug itself into a deep hole. Cruts is right. Some tough decisions are going to have to be made. Not everyone -- and not every special interest -- is going to like every one of them.

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