Construction at a military base in Colorado Springs is being deferred as part of budget shifts to pay for President Donald Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
That comes after assurances from the White House to Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner that no Colorado bases would be affected for the 2019 fiscal year.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s office says it was told by the Air Force on Wednesday that $8 million appropriated for a Space Control Facility at Peterson Air Force Base “would be cut.” A spokeswoman for the Colorado Democrat said that money was appropriated in fiscal year 2018, but that construction had been delayed.
A list released by the Department of Defense confirmed the deferment. It’s the only project in Colorado being affected by the funding shift to pay for the border wall.
“Our office asked for reassurance that the project is and would continue to be a priority for the USAF in the future, and they received that assurance,” Bennet spokeswoman Courtney Gidner said.
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It was not immediately clear why the construction had been delayed. A spokesman for Peterson, Steve Brady, said he wasn’t aware of the delay, the broader project or the deferred funding.
Bennet expressed outrage at the cuts, saying the deferment is “taking money from operational priorities to pay for a wasteful and ineffective wall is grossly irresponsible and undermines our national security.”
“This is ridiculous,” Bennet told The Colorado Sun of the Peterson news. “President Trump couldn’t get what he wanted through the ordinary budget process — even, by the way, when he had Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate — and then he resorted to declaring emergencies and reprograming the money. And it’s going to come at a cost to the mission at Peterson and in Colorado, and it’s very regrettable.”
Back in March, when Trump issued an emergency declaration to shift military dollars to pay for the wall, a spokesman for Gardner said the Colorado Republican received a commitment from the Trump administration that no 2019 fiscal year money would be repurposed from Colorado’s military installations.
The $8 million for the Peterson project appears to fall outside those assurances because it was allocated in the prior fiscal year.
Gardner did not support a Democratic push to block Trump’s emergency declaration, saying it was the president’s legal right to issue the order.
Trump made the declaration after shutting down the government and following Congress’ refusal to grant him billions of dollars to pay for the wall.
The Department of Defense this week began the process of cutting military projects totaling $3.6 billion to cover the cost of the wall. Pentagon officials did not announce which 127 projects will be affected, but said members of Congress were being notified about specifics. They said half the money will come from military projects in the U.S. and the rest from those in other countries.
The Pentagon reviewed the list of military projects and said none that provided housing or critical infrastructure for troops would be affected, in the wake of recent scandals over poor living quarters for service members in several parts of the country.
Defense officials also said they would focus on projects set to begin in 2020 and beyond, with the hope that the money could eventually be restored by Congress.
The government will spend the military housing money on 11 wall projects in California, Arizona and Texas, the administration said in a filing Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. The most expensive is for 52 miles in Laredo, Texas, at a cost of $1.27 billion.
Military bases in other states are set to see much larger impacts than the $8 million being deferred from the Peterson project.
A Texas congressman, Democrat Henry Cuellar, said his state will get hit by $354 million in military base cuts. Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, a Republican, reported that her state is getting nicked for $30 million from a project that was being delayed anyway.
Meanwhile, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, joined other states in suing Trump to block the emergency declaration earlier this year on the grounds that it would impact the state’s military installations.
Gardner’s office did not respond to a request for comment until midday Wednesday, nearly 24 hours after the story of the Peterson impact first broke. In it, the Republican blamed Democrats for the situation leading to the reallocated funds.
“It’s unfortunate Democrats can’t defend the border and defend the country at the same time,” Gardner said. “If they could, we would have a border that was secure and no need for other funding to secure the border. Six months ago, they said there was no crisis at the border. Now they admit there is a crisis but won’t pay to help fix it. The bipartisan, Senate-passed defense authorization bill funds defense and allows us to address the border crisis. I would hope that Democrats would agree to fund defense needs and address the crisis they now admit.”
Gardner is facing a tough reelection battle in 2020.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Colorado Sun staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.