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Scott Walker: State can match or exceed $100,000 to lure military jets to Truax

Gov. Scott Walker says the state could match $100,000 offered up by Idaho to land a jet contract, but that the final decision won't be about money.

Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday the state can match or exceed $100,000 in state taxpayer subsidies to house 18 F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field, but he emphasized that money won’t be the deciding factor.

“It’s not a question of money,” Walker said. “If that’s the case, we certainly could match or exceed that,” he said, referring to a bill Republican Idaho Gov. Butch Otter recently signed committing $100,000 to help land the federal contract.

“But that’s really not what they’re looking at,” Walker added. “They’re looking at what’s the most appropriate place for the operations of the F-35.”

Madison’s Truax Field is one of five National Guard bases in the running to base the growing fleet of F-35s. Two are to be selected, possibly by the end of this year or early next year.

Wisconsin is competing against Dannelly Field, Montgomery, Alabama; Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho; Jacksonville Air National Guard Base in Florida; and Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Detroit.

Walker said he spoke with the secretary of the Air Force and other top military officials and highlighted Wisconsin’s proximity to restricted air space and the 128th Air Refueling Wing based at Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, which could produce long-term cost savings for the program.

“That little bit (of money) put up isn’t really going to be the difference maker,” Walker said.

“The difference maker is making the case,” Walker said. “We’ve got strong community support. We’ve got strong bipartisan support. We’ve got all the things you need to have to build that foundation.”

The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce has raised $116,000 from a small group of private donors, which has paid for Washington consultants to help with the process, including retired four-star Air Force Gen. Howie Chandler and former Secretary of State James Baker’s law firm.

Chamber president Zach Brandon said he has spoken with Walker and GOP lawmakers about providing a matching amount, likely from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., to whatever can be raised in private funds.

“Based on all indications the state government would be supportive of some public-private partnership,” Brandon said.

Brandon said he’s not sure how much more will come from the private sector, but the amount raised so far came from reaching out to a small number of donors, and a much larger fundraising campaign could be coming soon.

The effort is supported by U.S. senators Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, Mayor Paul Soglin and local Democratic legislators, though it faces resistance from residents worried about noise.

Truax houses the Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter wing and a fleet of F-16 jets that are among the oldest in the nation. Not landing the F-35 jets increases the chances of closure at the base, which generates $100 million in local economic activity, Brandon said.

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Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.