Task force: SC needs unified front to protect military bases

jwilkinson@thestate.com April 23, 2012 

Gov. Nikki Haley should visit and publicly promote South Carolina military bases and the General Assembly should fund efforts to protect them from another round of closures, the S.C. Military Base Task Force executive committee suggested Monday.

The U.S. Department of Defense has asked for another two rounds of Base Realignment and Closure — called BRAC — in 2013 and 2015 to trim $600 billion from its budget over the next decade. It already has announced $487 billion in cuts.

Task force members said during its meeting Monday that the state must present a unified front to protect its bases, which pump an estimated $11.8 billion into its economy each year.

“To have the state support this is very, very critical,” said Maj. Gen. George Goldsmith, a task force member and chairman of the military affairs committee of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

However, the task force, formed after Charleston lost its Navy base in the 1990s, has received no funding from the General Assembly and has been without an executive director for more than a year.

During the height of the last round of BRAC in 2005, when Fort Jackson and Shaw Air Force Base gained missions such as The National Drill Sergeant School and Third Army from other bases, the task force was receiving up to $500,000 a year from the General Assembly. That money was used to pay for an executive director, and to assist the four primary military communities — Columbia, Sumter, Charleston and Beaufort — in lobbying and other uses.

Task force chairman Richard Eckstrom, the comptroller general, said he didn’t request any funding in this year’s budget because BRAC was not pending and said he was looking for a replacement for former executive director George Patrick, a retired Air Force brigadier general who was recruited to serve as the state’s deputy secretary of commerce.

Eckstrom said that now that a new round of BRAC has been requested funding would be needed. How much?

“It’s driven by what the communities need,” he said.

South Carolina’s military bases – not to mention billions of dollars in defense contracts – could take a big hit if another round of cuts to the military occurs in January.

Experts believe the $487 billion in cuts already announced will have little effect on South Carolina. But another $600 billion in cuts could be required because of last year’s debt-ceiling standoff in Congress and the failure of a congressional "super committee" to make $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade. That failure could trigger automatic cuts – half to the military, half to domestic spending – called "sequestering."

“If we don’t figure out how to deal with sequestration,” said S.C. Deputy Adjutant General Lester Eisner, a task force member, “a lot of babies are going to be thrown out with the bath water.”

Studies have shown that Fort Jackson, Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter and McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover pump $7.1 billion a year in total economic impact into the Midlands economy. That’s $1 billion more than the estimated economic impact of Boeing on the Charleston area.

Military installations in and around Charleston add an additional $4.7 billion a year to the state’s economy. And Beaufort’s three installations add $1.2 billion a year. The cuts also are a threat to the Upstate, with its $2 billion a year in defense contracts held by companies that supply the military.

Executive committee members suggested that the state embark on a campaign to educate local communities, business leaders and lawmakers of the dangers and opportunities of BRAC, and the consequences of sequestering. Haley, they said, could help lead that effort by upping her visibility at events such as Marine graduations at Parris Island Recruit Depot in Beaufort.

After the meeting, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey told The State the governor is prepared to visit the state’s military installation whenever needed.

"Not only is the governor ready to work with our federal delegation, military base task force and (S.C. Adjutant) General (Robert) Livingston to protect South Carolina military bases from cuts and welcome any member of the Armed Forces forced to relocate from other states,” he wrote in an email, “she is happy to visit our bases and installations anytime, as she already does, and help promote our bases and their importance to our state and nation."

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