Fiscal cliff or not, S.C. faces military cuts, task force told

By JEFF WILKINSON | The State (Columbia, S.C.) | Published: November 16, 2012

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Members of the S.C. congressional delegation have told the state’s military boosters that $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts set to take place Jan. 3 – called “sequestration” or the “fiscal cliff” – likely won’t occur.

But the state’s lawmakers disagree on what will take its place to reduce the budget deficit, and warn that more military cuts will come through another round of base closings or other methods, leaders of the state’s Military Base Task Force said during their meeting Thursday.

“Generically, everybody thought that sequestration was the wrong thing to do and that they were very, very confident that sequestration in the current form would not happen,” said retired Maj. Gen. William “Dutch” Holland, a former chief of Ninth Air Force who serves as task force’s executive coordinator. “But from there, the details vary greatly. … It’s still going to be a fight.”

Meanwhile, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin was in Washington, on Thursday, receiving much the same message from the White House and congressional leaders.

“The sense I’m getting is there is going to have to be some kind of a grand bargain between now and the first of the year,” he said. “I hope the sequester is avoided. A meat cleaver approach to budgeting is never preferred.”

He and about a dozen other members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors met with Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others to state their concerns about the domestic side of the cuts, as well as proposed cuts to the military. The $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts would be split evenly between military and domestic spending.

Benjamin noted that such things as Community Development Block Grants – such as the ones used to help improve Main Street facades and help businesses locate there – and the tax exemption for purchasing municipal bonds – which pay for parking garages and other infrastructure – would be scrapped under the current plan, making it more difficult for mayors to maintain and improve their cities’ infrastructure.

“We’re trying to make sure that politicians up here understand the ramifications of their positions and how it trickles down to regular people,” he said.

A South Carolina Department of Commerce study released Tuesday stated the military pumps $15.7 billion a year into the state’s economy and supports more than 138,000 jobs. But those jobs and their economic impact are in jeopardy if more cuts to the military occur.

The Pentagon already has implemented $487 billion in cuts to take place over the next decade, due in part to the end of combat operations in Iraq and a proposed drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. But another $600 billion in cuts over 10 years could be required beginning Jan. 3 because of last year’s debt-ceiling standoff in Congress and the failure of a congressional supercommittee to make the $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions.

The task force was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley to protect and enhance South Carolina’s significant military infrastructure, which contributes 7 percent of the state’s economy.

S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, task force chairman, said that delegation members, interviewed before the presidential election, gave different scenarios depending on who won, President Obama or Mitt Romney.

“So we have a little better understanding of what we will be facing as a state, although there is still a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “We gained some insights from our conversations that would tend to provide to us a little more calm in the face of the storm that is raging in Washington.”


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