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Lt. Gov. John Sanchez talks F-16 mission at Holloman and upcoming legislative session

ALAMOGORDO — Lt. Gov. John Sanchez stopped by Alamogordo Tuesday as part of his pre-legislative session tour of New Mexico.

New Mexico’s 30-day legislative session begins Jan. 16 in Santa Fe.

Sanchez said his main priority in southern New Mexico, particularly Otero County, is the vital F-16 mission at Holloman Air Force Base.

“This is my opportunity to continue trying to bring my office out into the community versus them having to come to Santa Fe. I want to talk to our local legislators whenever possible, not just Republicans, but Democrats as well, trying to make sure that we build consensus and preparation for hopefully a good legislative session,” Sanchez said. “I wanted to continue the combined efforts of the community and our legislators on the continued mission of making this F-16 placement a permanent interim here at Holloman. This has been my top priority of my office and staff as we work with the different groups here in Otero County to ensure that Holloman is the permanent home for those F-16s.”

He said he has visited with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.

Sanchez said he believes the most important thing to acquiring the F-16 mission permanently is to expand Holloman’s current airspace.

“My conversation with Secretary Wilson at the Pentagon approximately a month ago was that she was very pleased to see the momentum that has taken place and how the community has really rallied for the F-16 mission,” Sanchez said. “She said the most important thing is we have to secure the sufficient airspace in order to make this effort not only viable, but permanent. That was her message to me and to the people of Otero County.”

Holloman Air Force Base officials recently said their flight training areas in Southern New Mexico are outdated and that some need to be expanded, reshaped and relocated – changes that would have F-16s flying over sparsely populated rural areas not now used for that purpose.

The Air Force has conducted open house meetings to solicit public comments on the proposal during the month of September in Carlsbad, Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces.

Sanchez said the expansion of not only the airspace, but Holloman’s mission, means more jobs and economic development and growth for the region.

The mission at Holloman will bring over 600 direct jobs, thousands of regional employment opportunities and over $412 million in economic impact to the state.

Sanchez said combined with the Remotely Piloted Aircraft operations, Holloman is in position to become the nation’s fastest growing mission in the Air Force.

“The benefit to our entire state is substantial and real. Now is the time to embrace this opportunity and secure the future of defense and national security aviation right here in New Mexico,” he said. “It’s going to require a lot of cooperation from local, state and federal agencies, but we can accomplish and address the concerns that people have and offer them up to the Air Force. We will provide them with airspace to give them no excuse to choose Holloman as their permanent home.”

Sanchez said education was a big concern for the Air Force but now that the Alamogordo Public Schools Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution to support prioritizing Holloman Elementary for a new facility, Holloman is now one step closer in becoming a permanent location for the F-16s from Hill Air Force Base.

“One of their big concerns was the condition of the schools. Working with the community, we were able to take that before the necessary boards to make those decisions in Santa Fe. With that, now Holloman Elementary will now be the top priority for reconstruction,” he said. “We have to have good modern facilities. We want to make sure that the current residents and also future Airmen and women have the bricks and mortars that are going to be sufficient. This is going to be a state of the art school that’s going to offer support for quality education and will hopefully break ground by the end of the year.”

On the 30-day legislative session, Sanchez said he is partnering with Sen. Bill Burt on a bill that would exempt state tax on military and retirement benefits.

“We want to attract military personnel to New Mexico and get them to retire here. One of the biggest obstacles is making certain that their retirement benefits aren’t taxed, and it’s a tough thing because it’s a financial hit,” Sanchez said. “What we have to do is educate other legislators to see the economic benefit in making New Mexico an attractive place for retirees. It affects Otero County probably more than any other county in New Mexico per capita, so that’s a big piece of legislation.”

He said they will also discuss exempting taxes specifically to new construction at Holloman Air Force Base for the new F-16 mission.

“Again, we’re working with local legislators to garner support from the legislature in New Mexico to pass that. The financial state is improving but it’s still a challenge,” Sanchez said. “This F-16 mission was provided on a silver platter, we have to make sure this mission takes places because it’s worth billions in the long haul.”

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©2018 the Alamogordo Daily News (Alamogordo, N.M.)

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