WASHINGTON — President Clinton is planning to unveil a new relief package today for workers and communities expected to be hit in this year's round of military base closings, but the effort is likely to be a modest one, Administration officials said Tuesday.
Administration strategists said that Clinton will release about $80 million in grants for workers and localities that had been approved by Congress in the fiscal 1993 budget but was frozen by the George Bush Administration.
He also will approve the use of $1.35 billion in unspent funds--part of last year's broader congressional "defense conversion" program--to provide early retirement incentives for military personnel and Defense Department workers and to help subsidize efforts by smaller defense firms to develop products to sell in commercial markets.
Officials said the Administration will ask Congress for about $1.7 billion in defense conversion funds for fiscal 1994, which begins Oct. 1--the same amount that Congress had appropriated for the current fiscal year, most of which Bush had declined to spend.
Even so, both government and private analysts said that the money is not likely to go very far in helping workers--especially those in the slumping California economy--who may be laid off in the current round of base closings. Analysts said that most such programs have only a marginal impact and that the real solution to creating jobs for displaced workers is to spur the economy.
In Orange County, where El Toro Marine Corps Air Station is one of nine California bases mentioned for possible closure, officials Tuesday did not even want to consider the possibility of layoffs or base conversion.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors, in a stern missive to the Defense Department, blasted any effort to close El Toro as a potential crippling blow to the local economy. Adding the planned shutdown of the Marine Corps Air Station at Tustin scheduled for 1997, the possible loss to the community has been pegged at $1 billion annually.
"The people of our county and the region all stand to lose if this major economic factor is removed from the equation," Supervisor Thomas F. Riley said Tuesday at the board's regular meeting. El Toro is in Riley's sprawling South County district.
Defense Secretary Les Aspin is scheduled to begin the base closing process on Friday by unveiling a list of suggested shutdowns that he will send to the independent Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. That panel has until July 1 to recommend closures.
Defense officials have speculated that the closure list will include at least 30 major military installations, with recommendations that as many as 150 others--mainly depots and smaller sites--be consolidated or cut back.
Officials said that California--where 17 bases have been ordered to be closed since 1988--is expected to be particularly hard-hit once again. Lawmakers already have begun lobbying to ward off some of the expected shutdowns.
Part of the Navy plan proposes the consolidation of naval facilities into two or three "megaports," possibly at Norfolk, Va., Kings Bay, Ga., or San Diego. The Navy also would close its aviation depot at Pensacola, Fla., and a shipyard in Charleston, S.C.
Aspin, who was on Capitol Hill Tuesday conferring with lawmakers from California and other affected states, has warned that this year's list will be especially long--"the mother of all base closing lists," as he put it during a television interview on Sunday.
The bases likely to be affected in California include Alameda Naval Air Station, naval shipyards at Mare Island and Long Beach, El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, March and McClellan Air Force bases, Oakland Navy Supply Center, Treasure Island Naval Station and the Presidio in Monterey.
Members of California's congressional delegations continued to put pressure on the Administration to go easier on the state, on grounds that California already was hit hard in 1988 and 1991 closures.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in a speech on the Senate floor, urged that the state's bleak economic conditions be considered before any more bases are closed in the state. She also met with Aspin to plead California's case.
Feinstein warned that if all the California bases on the list are closed, the move would have a direct effect on 77,000 military and civilian jobs and could have an indirect effect on almost 230,000 more. The state already has an unemployment rate of 9.8%.
During a White House meeting with other Democrats, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) handed Clinton a "personal plea on behalf of the people of California for fair consideration."
Times staff writers James Bornemeier in Washington and Kevin Johnson in Orange County contributed to this story.
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