THE ISSUE: Military in the Palmetto State
OUR OPINION: Congress must prevent cutbacks for security, economic reasons
South Carolina officials could not compete with the sensational headlines of the day about U.S. military leaders and the personal matters that are leading to questions about intelligence and security. But the issue they brought to the fore Tuesday has more far-reaching impact for the state and the nation.
The S.C. Military Base Task Force called a Columbia news conference to release a new study on the military in South Carolina. The study details a multibillion-dollar impact supporting tens of thousands of jobs, concentrated in the state’s four military installation communities: Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia and Sumter.
The study comes at a critical time when U.S. military spending, already being reduced by several hundred billion dollars, could be cut even more drastically under a series of automatic federal spending reductions, known as sequestration, scheduled to begin in January 2013.
“The impact is significant,” Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom said of the military as he released the study by the state Department of Commerce. “It represents about 10 percent of the entire state economy.”
Eckstrom, who chairs the Military Base Task Force, said he hopes the study lets state leaders see how vital the military is to economic growth in South Carolina.
The report was released as the task force has been meeting with the state’s congressional leaders on what is being done in Washington to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff.” That is the package of tax increases and spending cuts that take effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal.
The study is expected to help make the case against future base closures as well as “sequestration.” It seeks to show South Carolina bases offer great military readiness value for the investment.
Deputy commerce Secretary George Patrick likened the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy installations to “big manufacturing facilities” in major communities across the state.
Patrick said the panel wanted a report that gave “a valid, recognizable economist’s point of view” on how the military’s impact ripples through the state’s economy.
For the first time, Eckstrom said, the report provides information on the economic impact of the state’s 11,000-member Army and Air National Guard. It also includes the impact of potential spending by the 900 military contractors who work in the state, he said.
Retired Maj. Gen. William “Dutch” Holland, a former head of Ninth Air Force who serves as executive coordinator of the task force, said the report tells those in leadership roles in the state, “how this will affect us in the local communities, as well as the state level.”
Adjutant General Robert Livingston said the military cuts that are part of the package are bad enough, but since they must be made across the board, no input is allowed from the nation’s defense leaders.
“It’s how it’s applied” that adds to the problem, the two-star general said.
The Defense Department already has agreed to assume $490 billion in cuts over 10 years, but to double that with no ability to judge how the additional cuts should be made is going too far, Livingston said.
Echoing the National Security Network: “As Congress returns to work during its lame-duck session, its top national security and economic priorities should be the same – setting our nation on a balanced path to fiscal health without the meat-axe, across-the-board spending cuts set to occur under sequestration. A balanced deal will protect the American economy – the foundation of American military power — and will keep Pentagon waste and misprioritization on the table to do so. Indeed, national security leaders agree that smartly reshaping Pentagon spending will leave America with the world’s strongest military and a strengthened global position.”
Details from a report by Susanne M. Schafer of The Associated Press in South Carolina is included in this editorial.