Monday, August 19, 2013

South Carolina’s General Assembly Should Prioritize Pro-Military Legislation to Remain Competitive in Base Closure Process

by William R. Hall
          The economic effects of base closure in the Charleston area would be disastrous. On top of the already difficult economic woes the Lowcountry has suffered as part of the larger national downturn, this blow could be crippling. In Charleston alone, tens of thousands more unemployed workers would be looking for jobs, with an economic loss rising to the billions of dollars. It’s a worst case scenario, but one that could play out as soon as 2015 if the Pentagon decided to shutter Joint Base Charleston and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Charleston (SPAWAR) as part of their base closure plans. The South Carolina General Assembly needs to adopt laws in the coming session to support our military and veteran community.
Ever since the turn of the century in the 1900s, Charleston has been a military town. According to the Post and Courier, back then, the port city was considered a top Navy facility, the home to both destroyer and submarine squadrons. In World War II, Charleston built some 200 ships for the war effort going on across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. So many people worked at the base, in fact, that some 20,000 housing units were built to accommodate them - giving birth to what would later become the City of North Charleston. Considering this history, the announcement that came on a Friday evening in 1993 was all the more a surprise - and a terrible one indeed. It was then that U.S. Senator Fritz Hollings revealed that both the Navy Base and Naval Shipyard in Charleston would be shut down as part of the Pentagon’s base closure plan. The economic impact would be huge, and 22,000 jobs would be lost.
Although the Charleston area bounced back relatively quickly then, benefitting from other economic investments in the region and a reinvestment by the military, another round of base closures are looming on the horizon in 2015, according to an article in Politico. Chuck Crumbo writes in the Charleston Regional Business Journal that this time, between Joint Base Charleston and SPAWAR, over 66,000 jobs could be at stake, with an economic impact of nearly $7.8 billion. This type of loss would be an economic tsunami in Charleston, spreading unimaginable damage to the economy.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey saw how the closing of Charleston’s Naval Base had a negative effect on the larger community - shopping centers closed, a hospital closed, and thousands of civilian employees were out of work in addition to the military members that left. “It made us realize how we all received some benefit from everyone who worked there and shopped in their own communities, and also from the suppliers,” Summey said in an article in Charleston’s Post and Courier. “We didn’t really realize, until closure, how it affected the whole region,” he said.
The bases in Charleston wouldn’t be the only ones in South Carolina to face the possibility of being on the chopping block. According to a study by the S.C. Military Base Task Force, the military community in South Carolina generates $15.7 billion in economic impact, and supports almost 140,000 jobs. Joint Base Charleston alone accounted for $4.38 billion and 38,527 jobs, and SPAWAR Charleston adds another $3.38 billion and 27,492 jobs respectively. “We’ve heard that it’s almost a truism that it’s all about jobs,” Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom said in an article in the Charleston Regional Business Journal. “Well, that’s not just a slogan. It is all about jobs.”
South Carolina lawmakers are already making progress with legislation that will make South Carolina more military friendly. With so many jobs at stake, and an economic footprint that spreads across the entire state, more legislators need to get on board to make it a priority before the next base closures are debated by the Pentagon. Seanna Adcox of the Sun Newsreports that one such law will be added to the books this week, when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signs a law that encourages public colleges to award veterans course credit for military training. With this additional law, South Carolina gets to “check off” another of the 10 issues the Department of Defense considers key for the quality of life of military families. South Carolina already had three, and with this addition, six issues would be left outstanding.
Other states are also working on their check off lists. Those states are also taking actions to prevent any base closures in their state. In fact, South Carolina is behind compared to some other states - North Carolina and Mississippi already have credit for five; Florida, Tennessee and Texas have six; and Louisiana and Virginia have received credit for seven. For South Carolina to remain competitive, it is important the General Assembly act as quickly as possible to enact the proposed legislation. With the discussion on base closures approaching quickly, South Carolina has only one additional legislative session to adopt the laws, prior to the Pentagon’s 2015 talks. “It will mean in the eyes of those who view South Carolina from afar, primarily Washington, that South Carolina cares about fair treatment of military personnel,” Bill Bethea, chairman of the state’s Military Base Task Force, told The Sun News in an interview.
The issues at hand were developed by the Department of Defense (DoD) for the USA4 Military Families initiative. The DoD website reports that they have concentrated their efforts on states adopting the following 10 key issues, which they believe promotes the well-being of service members and their families: facilitate service members receiving licensure and academic credit for military education, training and experience; facilitate military spouse transition through licensure portability and eligibility for unemployment; provide authority for establishing Veteran Treatment Courts; increase access to quality childcare; promote consumer protections and enforcement of predatory lending; allow service members to retain earned priority for receiving Medicaid home and community care waivers; improve absentee voting; waive required waiting time to in-state tuition rates; assign an identifier for military children in education systems; and create memorandums of understanding between DoD and the state child welfare agency to standardize relationships among local courts, agencies and military communities.
In an article inThe Sun News, State Senator Tom Davis said one of his top priorities is becoming “10 for 10” with the quality of life issues outlined by USA4 Military Families. He said that not only is it the right thing to do, but it will also make South Carolina stronger in surviving the next round of base closures. He has taken measures to accomplish all 10 before the end of the 2014 legislative session. “This is part of an effort to make sure South Carolina formally recognizes the sacrifices families have to make,” Davis said. “These are things that don’t involve an expense but are a recognition that military families face unique situations when given orders to relocate.”
Charleston Business Journal states that South Carolina did take proactive measures back in 2005, approaching the Pentagon on the advantages of the bases located in the state. “We sold those installations much like we sell the state today at the Department of Commerce when we’re talking to the industries that are looking to expand or put in facilities,”George Patrick, deputy secretary of the state Commerce Department, told the Charleston Regional Business Journal. State lawmakers need to take the same approach in being proactive with this round of base closures, as the stakes are even higher. With the national economy still dragging along, and the federal government in budget cutting mode due to the “sequester,” Pentagon officials may be looking to make serious cuts, and any military base in the country could be up for closure.
According to Politico, the Pentagon is looking at a new round of base closures in its latest budget proposal, and has requested some $2.4 billion for base closures that would start in 2015. Proponents of the base cutting measures say the proposed closures would be used to consolidate“excess capacity” that would save money in the long run. Officials at the Pentagon argue that the ongoing drawdown, as well as steep increases in personnel costs, leave them no choice. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that base closures are, “a comprehensive and fair tool that allows communities a role in reuse decisions for the property and provides redevelopment assistance.” He added that although there are upfront costs, which adds $2.4 billion over the next five year, “in the long term, there are significant savings.”
While I agree that long-term cost savings are beneficial for the country and our military, I believe there are several other cost-saving measures the Pentagon could consider before a domestic base closure. A recent report from the Global Research Center reveals that the U.S. operates and/or controls some 700 to 800 bases worldwide, spanning 156 different countries, with over 255,000 deployed military personnel. It’s estimated these bases encompass over 845,441 different buildings and equipment, and encompass a land surface of some 30 million acres. If the pentagon believes shutting bases will save money, they should consider closing some of the hundreds we have spread throughout the globe. And despite the fact the war in Iraq is over and Afghanistan is drawing down, and the Pentagon states it is seeking cost saving measures, the budget they presented had a $6 billion increase over last year’s budget, totaling $88 billion. Perhaps the Pentagon could also look at cost savings by eliminating some of the new equipment purchases that were requested in the budget, including several controversial aircraft, additional combat vehicles, submarines and combat ships.
Without addressing these issues, the Department of Defense will continue to pursue domestic base closures as a solution to cutting costs in the budget. If Joint Base Charleston and SPAWAR were to be selected for the chopping block, the economic impact of those closures would be disastrous for the Lowcountry. With the possibility of losing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in our economy, it is imperative that South Carolina’s General Assembly, in the 2014 legislative session, adopt the measures that will make our state competitive and further enhance the quality of life of our military community.

For further reading:

Adcox, Seanna. “S.C. Law to Help Veterans Find Civilian Work.” Myrtle Beach Online. The McClatchy Co., June 15, 2013. Web. June 15, 2013.

Crumbo, Chuck. “Military has $15.7B Impact in S.C.” Charleston Regional Business Journal. SCBizNews, Nov. 13, 2012. Web. June 15, 2013.

Dufour, Jules. “The Worldwide Network of US Military Bases.” Global Research. Global Research Center for Research on Globalization, Feb. 17, 2013. Web. June 15, 2013.

Ewing, Philip. “Obama Calls For Base Closures.” Politico. Politico LLC, April 10, 2013. Web. June 15, 2015.

“Key Personnel and Readiness Issues Supporting Service Members and Families.” U.S. Department of Defense, DoD State Liaison Office, 2013. Web. June 15, 2013.

Slade, David. “Charleston Navy Base and Shipyard Closure Announcement 20 Years Ago Bigger than the‘Sequester.’” The Post and Courier. Evening Post Publishing Co., Feb. 26, 2013. Web. June 15, 2013.


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