Politics & Government

Will SC military projects suffer as Trump looks for border wall funding?

As President Donald Trump’s administration looks for money in the federal budget to help pay for expanding the wall along the United States-Mexico border, dollars already promised to build military construction projects — including some in South Carolina — could be targeted.

South Carolina has more than $290 million in construction projects planned across its five military installations in Columbia, Beaufort, Charleston and Sumter, according to a document released Monday by the Pentagon. South Carolina’s projects are among nearly $13 billion total in U.S. military construction projects that have been approved but that have not yet been awarded funding as of Dec. 31.

The Pentagon released the list in response to questions from lawmakers about which military projects could be raided for funding to build the border wall. Those questions have come up in the wake of Trump declaring a state of emergency at the border. That declaration allows him to circumvent Congress to find wall funding after Congress denied Trump’s full request for $5.7 billion.

Even S.C. military leaders have expressed confusion over which military projects could be in danger of losing funding or having funding postponed.

Bill Bethea, chairman of the S.C. Military Base Task Force, had questions about which S.C. installations would be impacted this week. But a call to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s office Thursday assured him that most projects slated for the state would not be impacted, he told The State.

Bethea said one project, a fire station planned for a military housing complex in Beaufort, is the only one in danger of having funds diverted for the wall. And if that outcome comes to pass, Graham’s office assured him Congress would work to replenish the money, he added.

Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said the Seneca Republican will continue to advocate for S.C. military projects until the final list of delayed projects is published, and will seek to backfill any that may see their funding delayed this year.

“Senator Graham will continue to support construction of walls and barriers on our southern border as well as advocating for projects important to South Carolina,” Bishop wrote in an email to The State.

Last month, Graham said he was prepared to tell South Carolina military bases to make a sacrifice to build a wall, saying it would just be a temporary setback in the cause of a greater good.

“I would tell them this: If we need to take money from the military construction account to get a wall up and going, I’m willing to do it, and then on Oct. 1, whatever money you had to forfeit, we’ll replenish it,” Graham promised.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation also say it’s premature to assume any of South Carolina’s military projects will be impacted negatively.

“The governor’s office has no reason to believe that planned construction projects in any of South Carolina’s military installations are in jeopardy of losing funding,” Brian Symmes, a spokesman for McMaster, told The State last month.

This week, Symmes said this statement still stands.

According to a memo the Pentagon released Monday with the list of projects, not all of the nearly $13 billion in money yet-to-be distributed to U.S. military projects would be considered for use for the border wall. Only funds for projects with an award date after Sept. 30, 2019, would be eligible, that memo said.

Money promised for the construction of military barracks also would be safe, according to the memo, meaning $112 million in barracks projects slated for Fort Jackson — the nation’s largest basic training facility, located in Columbia — would not be impacted, a Fort Jackson public affairs officer confirmed.

Following that criteria, only one of the S.C.-based projects listed on the Pentagon’s list — a fire station at Laurel Bay in Beaufort slated to cost close to $11 million — appears to be in danger of having its promised funding diverted to help pay for Trump’s border wall.

Asked about the project’s future, a Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort spokesman said “no impacts have been identified at the air station yet.”

The Pentagon’s list included more than $290 million for projects at Fort Jackson, Shaw Air Force Base, Joint Base Charleston, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

Other S.C. military projects slated for future funding by the Pentagon are:
  • $25 million for a “mission training center” for U.S. Army Central, located at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter
  • $23 million to consolidate fueling facilities at Shaw
  • $53 million for a headquarters for a new MQ-9 Reaper Group of remotely piloted aircraft, commonly known as drones, at Shaw AFB. The drone group currently operates out of a temporary headquarters.
  • $35 million for second phase of improvements to firing ranges at Parris Island
  • $17 million for a fire-rescue station a Joint Base Charleston
  • $10 million for a recycling and hazardous waste facility and $6 million for a cryogenics facility at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort

The Department of Defense stressed in its memo that no decisions have been made about which military construction projects’ funding will be used to fund the border wall. A Defense spokesperson declined a request by The State to confirm the department’s plan for identifying money for border construction.

The Defense Department also said no military construction project would be “delayed or canceled” if its funding was redirected to pay for border barriers, provided the agency’s budget request for fiscal year 2020, which takes effect October 1, is enacted as requested.

Steve Creech, Sumter Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs chairman, said he feels confident the S.C. projects will get funded without delay.

“I’m sure there will be a compromise somewhere.”

SC’s congressional leaders say nothing to fear

Politics is driving some of the confusion over which military sites are at risk under Trump’s border wall strategy. And S.C. congressional leaders say they have no reason to think any S.C. military projects are in danger of losing funding to the wall effort.

The South Carolina projects included on the Pentagon’s list were originally floated as possible targets in a list compiled by U.S. House Democrats in mid-February.

In fact, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-Charleston, who represents Joint Base Charleston, Beaufort and Parris Island, put out a press release last month noting that “almost $45 million in military construction initiatives in Beaufort and Parris Island could be at risk.”

But, since it came from the party opposed to Trump’s emergency declaration, it was largely dismissed by Republicans as a partisan ploy.

“I think the other side that doesn’t want a wall is putting out that all the bases are being raided,” U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, whose district includes Shaw, said at the time. “I haven’t heard that.”

The Pentagon’s list bears more weight and is raising more questions as a result. If Trump turns to South Carolina military projects for wall money, it would put Norman, along with the state’s other Republican elected officials, in a bind.

Every GOP member of the S.C. Congressional delegation voted in support of Trump’s emergency declaration to unilaterally erect a barrier at the U.S.-Mexico border; McMaster, a staunch Trump ally, also backs the effort.

They are not worried.

Norman confirmed his office had not received any calls from Shaw expressing concern that their coffers might get raided to build Trump’s wall. “We’d fight for Shaw,” he added.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., agreed that any money taken from a South Carolina project would be “backfilled immediately on Oct. 1,” which is the start of the new fiscal year.

“When I hear the president talking about taking money out of South Carolina military construction projects, I will voice my concerns effectively and appropriately,” Scott added. “I have not heard that, so I am not going to answer the hypothetical.”

Staff writer Jeff Wilkinson contributed to this report.