August 19, 2019

Given the limits of national finances, need and creativity, Maine is unlikely to receive an immediate public works or military substitute to match the scale of Loring Air Force Base.

There are steps the federal government can take, however, to mitigate the impact of dismantling a major base.

Last week, the Senate, urged by Sens. George Mitchell and William Cohen, made progress on an important principle: The federal government should provide assistance to communities that grew dependent on defense installations during the 45-year-long Cold War.

The Senate decided to put $229 million in the 1993 budget to ease the impact of base closures and the consequences of reduced military spending.

An outgrowth of the Defense Transition Task Force appointed earlier this year by Sen. Mitchell, the appropriation includes $80 million for the Economic Development Administration to stimulate local economies and assist workers in areas impacted by cutbacks in military spending.

Critics contend that any alert, prudent region would have seen closure coming, and prepared for it. In reality, politics, the military establishment, and the closure process itself left most communities dangling for years.

This Senate appropriation is a first installment in rebuilding local economies. Enough to stimulate the revitalization process, it will be insufficient to carry it through.

But for Aroostook County, and the regions of Maine to its south, almost as important as what the initial infusion of money will do is what it represents — a tangible acknowledgment that the federal government helped create and perpetuate a relationship of dependence between the towns and their bases. It now has an obligation to assist communities in building diversified economies.

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