The significant economic impact of military installations in South Carolina is clearer than ever.
A study released this week by the state Department of Commerce states the military is a $16 billion industry in South Carolina, supporting 140,000 jobs. Three military installations in Beaufort County generate $1.2 billion, supporting 12,262 local jobs that pay a combined $534 million.
The new report must spark a sense of urgency within the state's congressional delegation to avoid the automatic budget cuts set to take place Jan. 3 -- called "sequestration."
The Pentagon already has implemented $487 billion in cuts to take place over the next decade, due in part to the end of combat operations in Iraq and a proposed drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. But another $600 billion in cuts over 10 years could be required beginning Jan. 3 because of last year's debt-ceiling standoff in Congress and the failure of a congressional supercommittee to make $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions.
The public is being told sequestration will not happen in its current form.
"But from there, the details vary greatly," retired Maj. Gen. William "Dutch" Holland, a former chief of the Ninth Air Force who directs the state's Military Base Task Force told The (Columbia) State newspaper. "It's still going to be a fight."
Military installations will always have to stand on their own merits. Five rounds of cuts by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, with the potential of another round in 2015, have proved that.
But South Carolina's delegation must push for more clarity and certainty for existing bases and the communities around them, including Beaufort County. The "fiscal cliff" approach to public policy is unhealthy and unwise.
The new study gives ammunition to the argument that local military installations offer great military readiness value for the investment.
And it shows how deeply the military's impact ripples through the state's economy. It even includes the economic impact of veterans and military contractors linked to the bases, as well as the National Guard.
It puts into real terms -- such as average salaries, which translate into such basics as food, fuel and child care -- the hard-to-fathom Washington budget numbers.
But most of all, the new study should serve as a kick in the pants to Congress. The numbers beg for Congress to quit fiddling, talking, dodging and pointing fingers while it dangles an economic hatchet over the heads of hard-working Americans.