Sequestration threatens California jobs and US military strength

Why should sequestration matter to San Diegans? The Armageddon level of budget cuts will hit our defense communities at a time when we cannot afford to lose another single job or put our defense at risk in the face of unrelenting threats to our national security.

Sequestration means that beginning Jan. 1, 2013, the Pentagon must cut $492 billion in military spending over the next nine years, unless Congress reaches an agreement to reduce the mounting federal deficit by more than $1 trillion. This automatic axe was included in the Budget Control Act enacted in 2011 as a result of the failure of the congressional "super committee" to confront the deficit.

This matters to San Diego because we are home to a vibrant military community from Miramar and Camp Pendleton to our naval bases in Coronado and San Diego, the Coast Guard, and functions and facilities for both the Army and Air Force. San Diego has it all. Additionally, our defense industry, including Northrop Grumman, Parsons, Cubic, Raytheon, General Dynamics NASSCO, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, represents high-paying jobs that create a positive ripple effect throughout our county.

The San Diego Military Advisory Council, a group of distinguished civilian and retired military leaders and a coalition partner of the Southwest Defense Alliance, published an economic report that showed that in San Diego alone, defense spending created more than 311,000 jobs — the equivalent of the populations of the cities of Chula Vista and National City — and accounts for approximately 25 percent of our local economy. You can run out of adjectives trying to explain how huge this is.

The threat of sequestration should not only raise a red flag here in San Diego, but also in Sacramento. Recently, the Southwest Defense Alliance commissioned a study on the economic impact of national defense spending in California and the Southwestern U.S. The results are astounding. During the study period of 2005 through 2009, an average of 1 million jobs per year were tied to national defense spending in California. That’s more jobs than in the entire Silicon Valley. Over the period, $570 billion in increased economic output was generated plus $12 billion in cumulative state tax revenue.

“The very prospect of sequestration is already having a chilling effect on the industry," said Robert Stevens, CEO of aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. "We’re not going to hire, we’re not going to make speculative investments, we’re not going to invest in incremental training because the uncertainty associated with $53 billion of reductions in the first fiscal quarter of next year is a huge disruption to our business.”

We have seen how the closure or the realignment of our military installations can negatively impact communities. Sequestration will make these closures look like a walk in the park. Not only are there long-term, incalculable and irreversible negative economic implications to sequestration, but also the defense of our state and our nation is at stake. The strategic implications are immense. This will be a shift in the status of U.S. national security.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in testimony before the U.S. Senate that if implemented, sequestration would cause the United States to “go from being unquestionably powerful everywhere to being less visible globally and presenting less of an overmatch to our adversaries, and that would translate into a different calculus and potentially, therefore, increase the likelihood of conflict.”

We need to immediately call on our congressional representatives and California’s two U.S. senators to push for a bipartisan solution to sequestration. The United States cannot afford this economic hammer blow, and we cannot afford to dramatically lessen the United States' ability to defend itself, its allies and its interests around the world. The United States is still the “shining city on the hill" as long as they don’t turn off the lights.

Retired Maj. Gen. Dennis Kenneally resides in San Diego and is executive director of the Southwest Defense Alliance, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on preserving and enhancing critical defense missions and assets in the Southwestern United States. David Herbst is chief corporate officer of Mercury Air Group Inc. and a member of the board of directors of the Southwest Defense Alliance, representing California.

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