SC leaders say military cuts could devastate economy

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH, AP) -- South Carolina Republicans say impending across-the-board federal spending cuts will devastate the state's military bases.

The Budget Control Act calls for $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts in domestic and military spending over the next 10 years. The cuts are referred to as sequestration. They're due to start in January because a special panel of lawmakers in Washington couldn't reach a deficit reduction deal last summer.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said Wednesday the military cuts would be the "death blow" to the United States' ability to defend against enemy attacks and would do signifcant damage to the state's economy.

"If sequestration takes place, South Carolina, more than most, will feel the impact," said Graham. "It will devastate our economy. It's like Boeing, Michelin and BMW all closing at once."

Gov. Nikki Haley added the cuts would mean a loss of 14,000 jobs in South Carolina and roughly $800 million in lost earnings.

"Our economy is still as shaken as it's always been but, our military, our military needs stability now more then they ever have. This is a step backwards," said Haley.

There are more than 62,000 defense personnel in South Carolina, most of them are stationed at Fort Jackson, which is the Army's largest training installation.

If the base feels the pinch, Midlands leaders have estimated $60 million would disappear from the local hotel and restaurant industry, and 200,000 passengers would no longer fly in and out of Columbia Metropolitan Airport to do business at the base.

Earlier this week, a report from a Washington-based think tank also indicated the airport could potentially be shut down by the same across-the-board cuts facing the military, by showing the impact the budget reductions would have on the Federal Aviation Administration. However, airport officials have said the airport is in no danger, criticizing the report for being based on "shaky data."

"We will see cuts. There is absolutely no way around cuts," said South Carolina Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom. "The question is how will those cuts be made?"

Senator Graham has warned that a prime target would be the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is supposed to be based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort and Shaw Air Force Base outside Sumter.

Graham said Wednesday he plans to tour the country telling people about the drawbacks of sequestration.

Still, the budget cuts are not yet set in stone. The White House and Congress has until December 31 to modify the automatic cuts.

However, there is support in some political circles to let the cuts take effect in January.