U.S. Rep. Castor OK with SOCOM funding despite sea level rise concerns

03/07/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: kathy castor, Greenlight Pinellas, transit, Macdill AFB, immigration reform, Ken Welch, David McKalip


U.S. Rep Kathy Castor (D-FL) answers questions at Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in downtown St. Pete.

photo by Janelle Irwin

MacDill Air Force Base will fare well in the proposed 2015 federal budget. U.S. Representative Kathy Castor agrees with funding despite the threat of rising sea levels to the low-lying military base in South Tampa.

“Nothing really is built on the outer near the coastline, everything is up on grade. This is one place I’ve got to compliment the department of defense.”

President Obama’s proposed Pentagon budget includes a 10% boost in funding for U.S. Special Operations Command which is located at MacDill. Agencies like the EPA have warned that rising sea levels coupled with storm surge could inundate flat coastal areas like MacDill over the next century.

“They are more progressive when it comes to planning for sea level rise and climate change than most other agencies to the point where they have explained to other policy makers that one of the greatest threats to our national security is the change to our climate.”

Castor has long been an advocate for some military programs. During a Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon in St. Pete Friday, the Democrat responded to questions about military spending saying her focus is on making sure military families receive the benefits they deserve.

“My first couple of years in Congress, I advocated for monies and brought them back to the VA hospital and USF because that was one of my passions, to make sure that our wounded warriors are getting the top notch healthcare and mental healthcare that they deserve.”

Tiger Bay is known for its feisty members who often ask tough questions as they “carve a politician up for lunch” as their motto says. But Castor turned the tables Friday, instead asking members to think about what they need in a district as many Pinellas County residents prepare to vote for a new member of Congress next week to replace the late Bill Young. Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch was the only person to specifically respond to her question.

“We have the voter purge, we have continued attempts to make it harder to vote in Pinellas County and we need your help at a federal level.”

Castor responded by saying Congress has failed to take action on changes to voting laws that would strengthen constituents ability to get to the ballot box. Most of Castor’s district includes Tampa and parts of Hillsborough County, but also spills over into South St. Pete. Castor says she supports a transit initiative in Pinellas that would provide additional funding for passenger rail and improved bus systems.

“I think it is vital to the future of Pinellas County to jobs and I’ve shared with the councilman and the commissioner, that line needs to be planned to run into South St. Pete where they have transportation challenges and need to get to jobs.”

Transit issues were pressed by several Tiger Bay members through questions. But one critic of the Greenlight Pinellas referendum appearing on the November ballot is David McKalip. He says he’s become frustrated with Tiger Bay, which is supposed to be a non-partisan political club.

“The Tiger Bay Club has deteriorated to the pussycat lapdog club. They don’t ask tough questions here anymore. This is a series of softballs designed to make Kathy Castor, the liberal, look good from all the liberals dominating the Tiger Bay Club.”

McKalip wanted to ask about delays to the Affordable Care Act he says are evidence it’s a flawed law. The topic wasn’t scratched. Instead, Castor responded to some more progressive issues being pushed by Democrats in both the state and Washington, including raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

“There was a report that came out yesterday that said if we could raise the minimum wage we could cut food stamp outlays by 4.6%. If you raise the minimum wage, you lift almost a million families out of poverty.”

She also weighed in on immigration reform which has been stalled in Congress by conservative Republicans worried the bill provides amnesty to undocumented people instead of focusing on enforcing current laws and increasing border security. Castor says she’s concerned about the pathway to citizenship in the bill too – 13 years is too long – but she does support passing the measure.

“It would cut the deficit because you’d have more people working and paying their taxes and it would lengthen the life of the Social Security trust fund.”

Castor was also asked about the role of the federal government in education. She pointed to increases to the federal Pell Grant she says provide a lifeline to families and students who may not otherwise be able to afford college.

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