Military-spending cuts that are part of sequestration might pose a greater threat to Beaufort's community and economy than future base closures, local military advocates said Friday.
"Sequestration will hit us like a loan with compound interest," said Col. John Payne, chairman of the Military Enhancement Committee.
Members of the committee, which is an arm of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, went to Washington, D.C., this week to discuss national and local military issues with members of Congress and military leaders. They spoke about their trip to 100 area residents and leaders during a public presentation Friday at The Arsenal in Beaufort.
"We've warned about (future Base Realignment and Closure rounds), but we need to focus on sequestration," committee vice chairman Jack Snider said of the across-the-board federal spending cuts that went into effect March 1. "... BRAC's not the only bogey in front of us."
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The amount of federal spending is still expected to rise between 2013 and 2021, according to Congressional Budget Office projections. However, total spending is expected to be about $1.1 trillion less over that period than if sequestration had not taken effect. Defense spending would be about $454 billion less.
The chamber committee met with Lt. Gen. Robert E. Schmidle Jr., the Marine Corps' deputy commandant for aviation; and Republicans U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham; U.S. Sen. Tim Scott; U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson; and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford. It also toured facilities of Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, expected to replace the F-18 Hornets at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort within two years. Construction is underway on base to accommodate the next-generation jet.
The elected officials and military leaders' views on military spending and program cuts varied, but most agreed BRAC likely will be delayed until President Barack Obama is out of office.
However, the potential for a decade of military cuts from sequestration, Graham warned committee members, could do more economic damage, including affecting plans to bring the F-35 to Beaufort.
" 'You may not have your airplanes; you may not have your base.' Those were his words," Snider said.
Although the air station is in preparations for the F-35s, discussions continue on a federal level about the future of that program. Snider brought an article to share with audience members about the balance the government may need to strike between investing in technology and paying to maintain a large employee base.
"I have a hard time thinking it could be cut completely, although it could be downsized," Snider said.
Sequestration triggered $85 million in federal cuts, forcing many local civilian employees on bases to take furloughs. "Non-crucial" activities, such as the Beaufort Air Show and Independence Day fireworks on Parris Island, also have been canceled.
The air station, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and Naval Hospital Beaufort contribute more than 15,000 jobs and $636 million in direct employee compensation a year to the community, according to a 2012 study by the S.C. Department of Commerce.
The committee will consult county and municipal leaders as it tries to decide what to do next, Snider said.
"We have to figure out a way -- and we don't have any answers yet -- to influence our representatives to do what they can to end sequestration," he said.
Not everyone in the audience agreed. Beaufort resident Jim Turk said sequestration's across-the-board cuts are a "blunt instrument," but as a taxpayer, he sees their value.
"I think it's a smart strategy to get our spending under control," he said.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.