COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The U.S. military pumped nearly $16 billion into South Carolina's economy last year and it supports about 140,000 jobs, economic drivers that would be severely harmed if automatic federal spending cuts take effect in January, officials said Tuesday.
"The impact is significant," Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom said of the military as he released the study by the state Department of Commerce. "It represents about 10 percent of the entire state economy."
Eckstrom, who chairs the state's Military Base Task Force, said he hopes the new study lets state leaders see how vital the military is to economic growth in South Carolina.
The report was released as the task force has been meeting with the state's congressional leaders on what is being done in Washington to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff." That is the package of tax increases and spending cuts that take effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal.
The study is expected to help make the case against future base closures as well as potential federal cuts known as "sequestration." It seeks to show South Carolina bases offer great military readiness value for the investment.
Deputy commerce Secretary George Patrick likened the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy installations to "big manufacturing facilities" in major communities across the state.
Patrick said the panel wanted a report that gave "a valid, recognizable economist's point of view" on how the military's impact ripples through the state's economy.
For the first time, Eckstrom said, the report provides information on the economic impact of the state's 11,000-member Army and Air National Guard. It also includes the impact of potential spending by the 900 military contractors who work in the state, he said.
Retired Maj. Gen. William "Dutch" Holland, a former head of Ninth Air Force who serves as executive coordinator of the task force, said the report tells those in leadership roles in the state, "how this will affect us in the local communities, as well as the state level."
Columbia Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ike McLeese called the process "a poison pill" purposely designed to get those discussing the budget to work together. He said their message to Washington is, "Quit talking and get the job done."
Adjutant General Robert Livingston said the military cuts that are part of the package are bad enough, but since they must be made across the board, no input is allowed from the nation's defense leaders.
"It's how it's applied" that adds to the problem, the two-star general said.
The Defense Department already has agreed to assume $490 billion in cuts over 10 years, but to double that with no ability to judge how the additional cuts should be made is going too far, Livingston said.
The military's impact is spread across the state, but is concentrated in Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia and Sumter, the report said. The details of the report can be seen online at: http://bit.ly/Zo29VU
Susanne M. Schafer can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/susannemarieap