Hawaii appears likely to snag at least $266 million in military construction projects in fiscal year 2018, up from $197 million last year, according to U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, ranking member of the Senate military construction and veterans affairs subcommittee.

In a news conference in Washington on Thursday, Schatz announced that by a unanimous vote, the subcommittee had approved language that would allow a number of major projects on military bases to go forward.

“This is a very good start, and it was done on a bipartisan basis,” Schatz said. “We are obviously in a very near-toxic (political) environment but it’s important for those of us on the Appropriations Committee to continue to do our job, and this committee continued to do its job in terms of construction and veterans, and that will help Hawaii over the next fiscal year.”

Senator Brian Schatz Editorial Board, Thursday May 5, 2016.
Sen. Brian Schatz serves on the military construction subcommittee. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Schatz said it is becoming easier to funnel money to Hawaii because of the growing awareness in the nation’s capital that the state serves as the front line of defense at a time of mounting tensions in the Pacific. The North Koreans continue to test missiles and China is building toward a 350-ship fleet in 2020, which would give it more vessels at sea than the U.S. has.

The spending proposal includes $90 million to continue work on a “control-and-command” facility for the Army of the Pacific at Fort Shafter, $73.2 million for sewer improvements at Pearl Harbor and $19 million for landing pads adequate to accommodate Osprey helicopters.

It’s possible that still more funding could be heading Hawaii’s way.

An artist’s rendering of a $311 million control-and-command facility at Fort Shafter. Funding for the third phase of the project is included in the 2018 fiscal year spending plan passed by the subcommittee Thursday. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

“We’re going to continue the negotiations,” Schatz said. “We believe this is a floor, not a ceiling. We think we can do slightly better than this through the conference committee process.”

Schatz said Hawaii’s buildup is getting the support of subcommittee chairman Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas who generally favors defense spending. Schatz added that he and his staff have sought to ensure that legislators who serve on the Appropriations and Armed Services committees and key members of their staffs stop off in Hawaii when they do military inspections tours in Asia. They are invited to visit Hawaii’s bases and installations to see where the dollars will be spent.

“When it comes to veterans and the military and their needs, we have a nice collaboration,” he said.

He expects to see additional funding coming to the state as it strengthens its position as a hub for cybersecurity efforts.

“Cyber is an increasing need across the Department of Defense and across our security agencies and Hawaii has developed a lot of expertise,” he said. “We are actually able to provide a significant amount of the workforce for the work that we do, so this is a growth area for us in the defense space and also among the civilian defense agencies.”

Senator Brian Schatz Pearl Harbor before speeches. Kilo Pier. 27 dec 2016
Schatz at Pearl Harbor in December for a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

So far this year, according to usaspending.gov, a government website that tracks federal expenditures, top military contractors include Manu Kai, BAE Systems Hawaii Shipyards, NOVA Group, Aqua Engineers and Allied Pacific Builders.

Military spending is viewed as having a cascading effect on the local economy. According to the Hawaii Data Book, based on estimates made in 2012, $1 billion in military expenditures translates to $1.7 billion in total spending, as contractors and their employees purchase goods and services during the time the work is underway. The state estimates a $1 billion expenditure generates 11,842 jobs locally.

The $266 million in spending, if it materializes, would exceed the amount of military spending brought to Hawaii by Sen. Daniel Inouye in fiscal year 2010. In December 2009, Inouye, who also served on the Senate appropriations committee, announced $199 million in spending on defense projects. That would be about $225 million, adjusted for inflation.