President Barack Obama's call for a five-year federal spending freeze could send shock waves through South Carolina's educational systems, health care, harbor-deepening plans and road building.
Or it might not.
The people involved in each of those sectors expressed hope that the freeze would apply mostly to the other guys.
Mark Tompkins, director of the University of South Carolina's Master of Public Administration Program, said when it comes to Obama's spending freeze, the true temperature will be found in the details, 'and I haven't seen details.'
'Think about everything from welfare to servicing veterans' claims to the support structure for the defense departments,' he said. 'All those things affect South Carolina directly, and the question is: What part of those things will be frozen?'
Less than two hours before Obama gave his State of the Union address, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley gave his State of the City address and vowed to work on deepening Charleston's harbor to 50 feet and solving flooding problems on the Septima Clark Crosstown Expressway — two projects expected to require many millions of federal dollars.
Riley said he wrote Obama on Wednesday to praise him on the speech.
'His leadership and working to arrest the growth of the federal deficit was very prudent,' Riley said, adding that he expects both the harbor-deepening and Crosstown projects to remain federal priorities.
'I think what the president is going to do in his budget is increase funding for infrastructure and reduce funding for noninfrastructure discretionary spending,' Riley said. 'That would be my guess.'
S.C. Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Poore noted that while Obama called for freezing spending, he also talked about the need to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, which a U.S. engineering group recently graded as a 'D.'
Asked how the state's road building could be affected, Poore said, 'I guess we have no comment because we don't know what to say.'
State Ports Authority spokesman Byron Miller said freezing spending wouldn't necessarily preclude harbor deepening — and, in fact, Charleston could benefit since it can argue that its port would be the cheapest in the Southeast to deepen to 50 feet.
'From a scarce resource standpoint, that actually helps Charleston's case,' he said.
Medical University of South Carolina President Ray Greenberg said Wednesday he doesn't know how Obama's plans will affect that institution.
'The president spoke about investments in innovation, research and education,' he said. 'That could potentially benefit us, while other cuts to federal spending might reduce support to research and patient care.'
The question is not just what Obama wants and what he puts in his next budget, it's also what Congress does.
Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said Wednesday that spending cuts should not leave poor communities behind. 'After all, we are only as strong as our weakest link,' he said. 'Economic strength in communities with chronic unemployment and underemployment is an important measure of our economic success.'
Tompkins said agricultural subsidies, food stamp benefits and all sorts of other programs also are up in the air.
'A hard freeze could be very disruptive for South Carolina, given that we bring more federal tax dollars into this state than we pay out,' he said. 'There are a gazillion details, and you can spin those off the top of your head and say, ‘I wonder about this.' '
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.