Capitol Alert

Funding for West Coast SEALs and submarines at risk under Trump border plan, Democrats say

California stands to be among the biggest losers of President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration if he succeeds in using his executive power to redirect funds from military construction projects to build a border wall.

House Democratic leaders have compiled a list of military facilities that have received funding from Congress for repairs and upgrades, but have not yet made a legally binding commitment to spend the money.

Under a national emergency declaration, the president has the right to divert those so-called “unobligated” funds to address the emergency — in this case, to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

White House officials told reporters on Friday they plan to tap $3.6 billion in unobligated military construction funds as part of $8 billion in federal money they intend to repurpose for wall construction.

A big chunk of that could come from West Coast bases. Out of a total of $16 billion in available funds budgeted over the last three years, up to $1.4 billion could from California projects and $200 million from work scheduled to take place at military bases in Washington, the records show.

That includes a major project to construct a new Naval campus and improve Navy SEAL training facilities in Coronado, Calif. The West Coast home of the SEALs is still sitting on more than $600 million in unobligated project funding.

“It’s really troubling, to say the least,” said Democratic Rep. Scott Peters, who represents Coronado and northern parts of San Diego County. Peters, who was elected in 2012, said he’s been working on securing the funding for the project since he came to Congress.

The new Coronado Coastal Campus is “very important to national security,” Peters said, noting that all of the country’s Navy SEALs come to the base for training. Naval Base Coronado did not response to a request to comment by press time.

A number of other military facilities in the San Diego region also have unobligated project funding that the White House could seize for its wall, according to House Democrats’ list, including upgrades at Camp Pendleton.

Further north, the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, Calif. is slated to get nearly $113 million for a new F-35 maintenance hangar, while Defense Distribution Depot-Tracy is awaiting nearly $19 million for upgrades.

The largest project in Washington that could have funds diverted to the wall is an upgrade to the submarine pier at Naval Base Kitsap in Bangor. Congress budgeted $89 million for the project last year. Other projects in Washington include a $26 million refueling center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and about $27 million in projects that would improve Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

The White House has not disclosed which particular projects it plans to divert money from. A senior administration official told reporters on Friday that officials “would be looking at lower priority military construction projects. We would be looking at ones that are to fix or repair a particular facility that might be able to wait a couple of months into next year.”

Administration officials have emphasized that Congress can replace the funds in upcoming spending bills. But as Peters emphasized, the budgeting process in Congress is slow and unpredictable, with no guarantees the same funding will be included in future spending bills.

Delays in starting new construction projects also tend to drive up costs, added retired Navy Rear Adm. Mark Balmert.

That, in turn, could hurt local economies.

In a lawsuit challenging the national emergency declaration, the state of California claimed it would “suffer economic harm from diversion of funding from military construction projects on California bases.”

“More defense contractor funding is spent in California than in any other state, and such funding generates significant state and local tax revenues, employment, and economic activity,” it continued.

The San Diego area is particularly vulnerable.

“One out of every five jobs in San Diego County are related to defense spending, “said Balmert, who is the executive director of the San Diego Military Advisory Council. The Navy’s Coronado Coastal Campus, in particular, “is going to be a really big deal for the construction industry in the San Diego region,” Balmert said.

Balmert has heard from military officials that the Trump administration does not plan to target funds for projects that have already begun construction. The work on the Coronado Coastal Campus consists of more than a dozen separate construction projects, more than half of which are underway. That could help insulate those particular projects, he said.

As a frequent target of Trump’s ire, California’s military construction projects could be particularly enticing target for the administration.

Trump said Friday that the military generals he’s spoken to believe building a border wall “is far more important than what they were going to use it for. I said: ‘What were you going to use it for?’ and I won’t go into details, but didn’t sound too important to me.”

The president spent the last few days railing against the state and its leadership for challenging his national emergency in court, a suit that 15 other states have joined, and threatening to rescind federal funding for a planned high-speed railway. Then on Tuesday, the Federal Railroad Administration sent a letter to the California High-Speed Rail Authority demanding the return of nearly $929 in unspent federal funds.

Peters, like others, said he has not gotten any indications from the administration about which projects it is looking at seizing money from. But the president “has not shown any reluctance to politicize national security,” he observed.

Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and writes the Impact2020 newsletter. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.