August 12, 2011

Our View: Don't fight to save BNAS commissary

If Maine's delegation can't support this budget cut, what will they be able to get behind?

There is a long list of obligations America owes its retired servicemen and servicewomen, and too often we have fallen short.

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The Commissary Store in Topsham is scheduled to close Oct. 8, to the dismay of military families who will have to go elsewhere to buy food at much higher prices.

Press Herald file

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Retired members of the armed forces are entitled to, among other things, education benefits, subsidized mortgages and health care, which are promised to them when they enlist and guaranteed by federal law.

But discount groceries for life is not an item on that list. It is an amenity that some former service members enjoy if they live close enough to an active military base with a commissary, but something that military retirees who don't live near a base will never be able to enjoy.

It's easy to understand why military retirees in the Midcoast area are sad to lose the Brunswick Naval Air Station commissary in Topsham, but everyone needs to tone down the rhetoric. No solemn promise will be broken if the commissary closes for good in October.

The closure of the commissary is an unfortunate but predictable outcome of the closure of the base, and along with the local military retirees, local businesses and town tax rolls will also feel the pinch that comes with the Navy moving its planes and personnel to Pensacola, Fla.

It doesn't make any more sense to maintain access to a commissary for military retirees than it would for the government to reimburse all of the local businesses that have lost sales since the departure of the Navy flyers and their families.

With about 10,000 retirees and their dependents affected, members of the state's congressional delegation are working tirelessly to keep the commissary around, at least in some form. But at a time when they all claim to be considering budget cuts to all programs, and even Social Security and Medicare are on the block, maintaining this amenity doesn't make a lot of sense. It also doesn't exhibit much political courage.

Members of the delegation could instead reiterate that closing the commissary is necessary to achieve the cost-saving goals of the base closure, and even though $2.1 million a year may not seem like a lot compared to the nearly $700 billion defense budget, cuts like these would add up if the government were really serious about looking for ways to lower spending.

Members of Maine's delegation can't credibly say that they favor budget cuts elsewhere but not at home. If this isn't a good place to start, they should say what is.


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