COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - South Carolina leaders are hoping to avoid a potential defense dilemma that could be caused by billions of dollars in defense cutbacks next year.
The mandated cuts, part of a process called s equestration, are linked to $1.2 trillion in cuts to help reduce the nation's debt. Last fall, a super committee of lawmakers was assembled to encourage a deficit-reduction compromise. The move did not achieve its intended purpose, activating the potential for deep military cuts in 2013 to help make up the necessary trillion-plus in cuts.
That possibility has many in South Carolina on edge.
"Next January our community and the nation could be threatened with a $600 billion reduction in defense," said Rep. Joe Wilson.
On Thursday, Congressman Wilson along with other elected and military leaders teamed up with economic officials in Columbia to address what the potential reductions could mean for the region.
South Carolina would not absorb the full $600 billion over ten year period of the plan, but, the possible across-the-board cuts, which do not discriminate against military branch, base or state could have a significant impact on the more than 62,000 defense personnel in South Carolina. More than 12,000 of them are stationed at the Army's largest training facility at Fort Jackson, with the others scattered throughout installations like Sumter's Shaw Air Force Base and Parris Island.
State officials estimate the number of military personnel could drop by approximately 7,500 people if the cuts go into effect in 2013.
"It effects our ability to assist in disasters in our country and will effect our way of life," said Major General Robert Livingston, South Carolina's Adjutant General.
South Carolina could lose roughly $480 million in defense contracts in 2013 alone. Defense spending equates to roughly $9 billion a year in South Carolina and accounts for almost six percent of the state's gross domestic product.
" The impact of Fort Jackson, McEntire Air National Guard and Shaw can't be overstated," said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.
Critics of the move say Congress and President Obama should repeal sequestration and work towards a bipartisan process to negotiate a comprehensive deficit-reduction package that includes revenue, discretionary spending, and entitlements.
If there is not a compromise reached, Midlands leaders say the impact would be drastic for several sectors of the local economy. They estimate $60 million a year would disappear from the hotel and restaurant industry if fewer personnel were located at Fort Jackson, and fewer people came to visit for basic-training graduation ceremonies and other events.
It's also predicted that 200,000 passengers would no longer come in and out of Columbia Metropolitan Airport to visit and do business at Fort Jackson.
"The impacts are significant. That's why it's important that we remain vigilant," said Benjamin. "That's why it's important that the public sector, the private sector, non-profit sector work together arm-in-arm and that we take nothing for chance."
Congress would have to agree to a debt-reduction alternative before January 2013 to avoid the $600 billion in nationwide defense cuts.