January 15

Massive federal spending bill has benefits for Maine

Bath Iron Works could have a destroyer contract finalized and some social programs would receive additional funding.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Bath Iron Works could finalize a contract for a destroyer if a spending bill makes it through Congress.

Press Herald file photo

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WASHINGTON — A spending bill slated for a vote in Congress this week includes $100 million that would allow the U.S. Navy to move ahead on a contract for a destroyer to be built at Maine’s Bath Iron Works, while state transportation programs would receive more than $160 million.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill unveiled by House and Senate negotiators would avoid another government shutdown while easing some “sequestration” budget cuts. The bill appears to have strong bipartisan backing, including members of Maine’s congressional delegation.

Some of the other items in the bill are likely to benefit Maine, including:

n $75 million in disaster relief to struggling fisheries, part of which will go to support New England’s dwindling groundfishing fleet.

n $3.4 billion nationally for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, a $170 million increase over the last year.

n $17.4 billion nationally for Section 8 housing vouchers, a $1 billion increase over sequester-reduced levels that could have resulted in more than 1,000 Maine families losing housing assistance.

The exact amount that each state will receive for some programs, such as LIHEAP and Section 8 housing, isn’t yet known.

The $100 million in additional funding for the DDG-51 destroyer – a 500-foot-long guided-missile destroyer considered a workhorse of the naval fleet – would allow the Navy to finalize a contract with BIW originally estimated at about $700 million.

“This funding is critical, and that is why I fought so hard to see that the money is included in the final bill,” Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who serves on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement. “I spoke with Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Sean Stackley, last week, and he said the Navy is prepared to sign the contract option once the $100 million is made available.”

The Navy awarded BIW a $2.8 billion contract last June for four DDG-51 destroyers through fiscal year 2017, but left open the option of a fifth ship if Congress and the Navy could close a funding gap created by recent budget cuts. Contracts for five other ships were awarded to BIW’s principal competitor, Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss.

Jim DeMartini, spokesman for General Dynamics-owned BIW, said the contract for the fifth ship would not have an immediate effect on the shipyard’s workforce because construction is still likely several years away. But over the long term, the contract “would allow us to maintain more stability in the workforce than we would without the ship,” he said.

With more than 5,000 employees, BIW is one of the largest private employers in Maine. BIW laid off more than 200 workers last year in response to the cyclical nature of the shipyard’s workload.

In addition to the DDG-51 ships, BIW also has a contract to build three Zumwalt-class DDG-1000s, a next-generation “stealth destroyer” designed for operations close to shore. The spending bill contains $231.7 million for continued construction of the DDG-1000, the first of which is due for delivery to the Navy in late 2015.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard would receive $11.5 million to begin consolidating the shipyard’s structural workshops. Shipyard officials said Tuesday the money would be used to create a more modern steel fabrication facility, to renovate several buildings and to improve efficiency and energy conservation.

The bill also would pay for 29 F-35 joint strike fighters – parts of which are built at the Pratt & Whitney facility in Berwick – and would increase production to 39 aircraft next year.

Members of Maine’s delegation praised the increased funding for LIHEAP – an important program for thousands of low-income Mainers unable to adequately heat their homes – but said the amount was still less than requested and would fall short of meeting demand.

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