Although supporters of the F-35 basing in Vermont have been saying for months that the F-35 would do no harm to person or property, they promptly objected to the compensation bill. Speaker of the House Shap Smith, an attorney and a Democrat, was immediately non-committal about what committee might look at the bill. The speaker's website contains no reference to "F-35," "joint strike fighter," or "Burlington airport." Smith did not reply to inquiry on the subject.
Reaction Among Politicians Has Been Timid
From the Congressional level on down there has been bi-partisan reticence about the F-35, though it's mostly Democrats who make vague statements of support without demonstrating any mastery of the details of the problem. More often than not, elected officials of the two major parties say little more than that they support the Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) and that they hope any difficulties can be worked out.
Rep. Kurt Wright, Republican of Burlington told WCAX-TV: "I think it's important to our guard and our economy that they [F-35s] are based here." This is a commonly repeated opinion that has little evidence to support it. Even the Air Force says that basing 18 F-35s in Burlington "would not impact regional employment, income, or regional housing market," although that changes with 24 F-35s based in Vermont.
What the view expressed by Rep. Wright and many others apparently references is their fear that, without the F-35, VTANG will have no mission and dissolve. No Air Force or Pentagon official has said such a thing, but National Guard generals and commercial supporters of the F-35 base have been using this fear as a tactic at least since 2010, even though there's no evidence to support it.
Rep. Clement Bissonnette, Democrat of Winooski, like Rep. Cross, captured the VTANG loyalty when he told FOXnews44, "I was proud on 9-11 when our jets took off and protected the east coast." When asked about jet noise possibly causing hearing loss or other medical problems, Rep. Bissonnette replied, without offering support, "There are people who say that, there's also studies out there that say just the opposite." The reporter added that
"Representative Cross plans to present a bill asking the state to compensate people who would be impacted by the noise. Representative Bissonnette says there's no money available."
While this response ignores the bill's content, that includes proposed funding means, it does encapsulate the apparently widespread indifference of Vermont's political leaders to any hardship imposed on their constituents by a warplane that is already 100% over budget, a decade overdue, cannot yet fly safely, and is expected to cost more then $1 trillion over its service lifetime if it ever is deployed.
Vermont Progressives Opposed the F-35 Early
In May 2010, the Vermont Progressive Party adopted a resolution titled "Stop the F-35" that said in part:
"We oppose the installation of F-35 fighter jets at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington. The health, safety, and quality of life of all Vermonters will be harmed by these fighter jets. Our environment will be degraded. Removal of more rows of affordable houses near the airport will likely be required".
"In town meetings Vermonters voted overwhelmingly that the best way to support our soldiers is to bring each and every one of them home now. These planes are counter to those votes, and they will not benefit Vermont. We say to the Federal Government: cancel the F-35, and send the money to Vermont instead."
In contrast, Vermont Democrats have yet to express doubt about the worth of the F-35. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, recently went to Florida to listen to the F-35 with earmuffs on and concluded it wasn't too loud. During the 2012 election campaign, a questioner asked him about compensating those harmed by the basing if it happens. Shumlin flipped off the voter, saying casually that he "didn't have the coin."
Some 200 houses are already vacant and condemned in South Burlington because they were within the area where jet noise is so loud that the Air Force labels it "unsuitable for residential use." With the arrival of the F-35s, the Air Force estimates that another 1,300 houses or more will be rendered "unsuitable for residential use."
Why Rush to Judgment Amidst Uncertainty?
Rep. Cross has also introduced a non-binding resolution asking the Air Force to take Vermont out of consideration for F-35 basing during this initial round of basing decisions. Vermont is one of six bases currently under consideration, with others located in Idaho, Utah, Florida, and two in South Carolina. According to Vermont Public Radio, Cross's resolution has "more than 30 co-sponsors" in the 150-member Vermont House. He has five as of February 8.