Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deb Billado, chairwoman of the Vermont GOP.
The defense of our lives and liberty is one of the most important functions of government at both the federal and state levels. We have a moral obligation to support those who serve to protect us without hesitation.
So, with September marking the arrival of the first F-35s at the Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) base, I’m proud that Republicans in Vermont have stood strong in support of the F-35 mission in Vermont and the VTANG.
To call the benefits of the VTANG base and mission in Vermont substantial would be an understatement. The VTANG supports thousands of jobs for Vermonters, putting it among our largest employers. It strengthens Burlington International Airport as a hub for economic activity, tourism, and travel. And, it invests millions in in our state through salaries, physical and transportation infrastructure investments, rescue operations, utilities, and more.
The consequences of losing the F-35 flying mission would be unprecedented and disastrous. According to President Trump’s former Secretary of the Air ForceHeather Wilson, it would’ve been “highly likely” that Vermont would’ve lost its VTANG all-together if we refused to host the F-35s. Former Secretary Wilson put it quite bluntly: if the F-35 mission were abandoned, “the Vermont Air National Guard would likely lose their flying mission upon the retirement of the F-16s.”
With the loss of that mission, we would’ve likely seen the closing of the Vermont VTANG base, the loss of $200 million annually that the F-35s are expected to generate in economic activity, and the elimination of the enormous safety and financial benefits that the base currently provides. These losses would be both unconscionable and unacceptable.
That’s why Vermont Republicans have consistently stood up for the VTANG’s F-35 flying mission. When the Vermont Senate passed a resolution opposing the F-35s, it was the overwhelming majority of Vermont Senate Republicans who lead the charge in support of our Air National Guard. When Democrats and Progressives in Vermont attempted to jeopardize the basing of the F-35s, Governor Phil Scott personally traveled to the Pentagon to meet with then-Secretary Wilson to reiterate his support for the F-35s and the VTANG. Shortly afterwards, Governor Scott issued a statement correctly noting that “The Air Guard and the F-35 are an essential part of enhancing the quality of life, vibrancy and vitality of the region and state.”
Whether it’s the President’s Air Force leaders, the Governor’s administration, or Republican Legislative leaders, the support for the basing of the F-35s in Vermont has been consistent theme among Republicans. In fact, Republicans in Vermont have stood together in supporting our servicemen and women, from the F-35s to the passage of tuition-free college in Vermont for our National Guard members.
But we still have more work ahead of us. The Governor has twice included the elimination of the tax on military retirement income in his FY19 and FY20 budgets. In both cases, despite the support of legislative Republicans, the bills were stalled by Democratic and Progressive leadership. You can help revive this important priority by contacting your legislators and voicing your support for this important initiative.
In the meantime, on behalf of the Vermont Republican Party, I welcome the F-35s to Vermont, and join with our Republican leaders in supporting our Air National Guard and their mission, just as they continue to serve and protect us every single day.