Charleston Mayor Joe Riley issued a warning about Lowcountry defense jobs Friday over the pending “fiscal cliff,” saying losses could be significant if an alternative isn’t found soon.
A day after meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and other leaders during a U.S. Conference of Mayors trip to Washington, Riley warned of employment jeopardy if automatic defense cuts are allowed to go forward beginning in January.
“In the Charleston region, massive defense cuts would cause substantial jobs losses and could cripple our economic recovery,” he said. “The long-term fiscal fix our nation’s leaders are now seeking must be responsible and carefully considered. Needed will be a balance of budget cuts and additional revenues.”
Riley supports President Barack Obama’s plan to extend existing tax cuts for some incomes, and to raise tax rates for the highest incomes toward deficit reduction, a stance at odds with Republicans in Washington. “I believe that most Americans support this,” Riley said.
“Fiscal cliff” entered Washington’s vernacular after Congress’ so-called “Super Committee” failed to enact bipartisan spending reductions. As a result, the 2011 Budget Control Act included “sequestration provisions,” or triggered cuts in domestic and military spending.
The total sought is $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Close to half would come from defense spending.
Riley also stressed the importance of continued federal funding of infrastructure projects, including the deepening of Charleston Harbor, and transportation.
Included in the meetings were House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., among others. Riley also met with members of Republican S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s senior staff.
Riley isn’t the only South Carolinian calling for a quick solution. Graham has been among those leading the charge to protect the defense budget, calling the mandatory military cuts “BRAC on steroids,” a reference to Congress’ base realignment and closure efforts.
Mary Graham, who works in the base defense effort at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, said Friday that multiple entities are working together in the state to protect South Carolina bases. Local avenues being explored include hiring a Pentagon consultant and Statehouse legislation that would help defend military footprints.
A state Department of Commerce report released this week said the U.S. military pumped nearly $16 billion into the South Carolina economy last year, supporting about 140,000 jobs.
Locally, Joint Base Charleston is home to more than 20,000 employees assigned to more than 50 commands.