Task force: S.C. needs unified front to protect its bases

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Task force: S.C. needs unified front to protect its bases

By JEFF WILKINSON
The (Columbia) State
Published Monday, April 23, 2012   |  604 Words  |  

ov. 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 Monday 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.

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. Haley, they said, could help lead that effort by upping her visibility at events such as graduations at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in Beaufort.

After the meeting, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said the governor is prepared to visit the state's military installation whenever needed.