Federal budget cuts would have wide range

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 25, 2013 

— If across-the-board federal spending cuts go into effect as expected on Friday, the White House estimates that hundreds of North Carolina teachers would lose their jobs, many families across the state would no longer get help with preschool or day care for their children, and 22,000 civilians who work for the military in the state would face pay cuts.

Those are just some of the consequences of the mandatory budget cuts, known as sequestration, which the White House is warning about this week. Others would include trims to budgets for public health, environmental protection and air safety.

The cuts would affect programs nearly across-the-board.

Wait times, for instance, at Charlotte and Raleigh airports could grow by the hours as thousands of air traffic controllers and security officials nationwide would be forced to take time off. Operations may completely cease at Concord Regional Airport and Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem, according to Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat, who heard Monday from the concerned airport officials who are in discussions with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Maybe not immediately, but if this goes on, by April they’ll have to close because they won’t have any air traffic controllers,” Watt said.

Rick Cloutier, aviation director at the Concord Regional Airport, said it’s possible to still operate an airport without a tower, although “you do increase some safety and reliability with a tower.”

The cuts will go into effect if Congress and the White House can’t reach a budget deal, under a bipartisan agreement crafted in 2011. For the last seven months of this year, military budgets would be cut by 13 percent and nondefense by 9 percent.

Fewer teaching funds

In education, North Carolina would lose about $25.4 million in funding for elementary, middle and high schools this year, starting in the fall. About 350 teachers and aides could also lose their jobs.

In addition, funds for students with disabilities would be cut by an estimated $16.8 million. An additional 200 teachers and staff who help these students could be out of work as well.

State funds, in theory, could be used to make up for the federal reductions, but that doesn’t seem likely, said June Atkinson, the state superintendent of schools.

North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said that the state doesn’t have the money to make up the federal education cuts, which provide aid to a wide variety of programs, including schools with high levels of poverty, students with disabilities and the state’s career technical education efforts.

The cuts for low-income and disabled students would be felt in the fall. Others would kick in immediately, including 1,500 fewer slots for preschoolers in Head Start.

In addition, about 1,150 low-income college students would not receive financial aid, and 890 would not get work-study jobs as part of their student aid plans.

Science, defense losses

The Research Triangle could lose research grants. There were no state-specific estimates, but nationwide, the National Institutes of Health would have to delay or stop some projects and give “hundreds” of fewer research grants, and the National Science Foundation would issue nearly 1,000 fewer grants, according to the White House.

Defense cuts in North Carolina would include furloughs for 22,000 civilian employees in the state, reducing their gross pay by about $117.5 million in total. Funding also would be cut for operations this year: $136 million less at Fort Bragg; $5 million less for Air Force operations; and a cancellation of depot maintenance at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

The administration’s one-page assessment of impacts on the state did not provide details about how many jobs would be lost at the bases, or how the indirect effects might curtail nearby businesses.

Members of military services would not face pay cuts.

N.C. delegation mixed

Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, of Greensboro, said that the cuts would have “an outsized impact on North Carolina, because of our strong military presence, including many defense contractors who desperately need certainty to operate their businesses.

“While reducing our deficit is one of my top priorities, indiscriminate, unprioritized cuts on the backs of our service members is not the way to get our fiscal house in order,” she said in a statement Monday.

Hagan argued in a commentary Sunday in The Fayetteville Observer that the automatic cuts would “have harmful effects on our armed forces by diminishing future military readiness and jeopardizing our national security. It would also threaten our state’s fragile economic recovery.”

Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, said the mandatory cuts were put in place to force Democrats and Republicans to negotiate a deal.

Spending already has been cut by $1.8 trillion, he said. The White House and congressional Democrats want a deal for further deficit reduction that involves entitlement and tax reforms, including fewer loopholes for corporations and wealthy individuals.

Congressional Republicans said the president’s plan amounted to a tax hike and rejected it. They said that Democrats should use the spending reductions they suggested last year.

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Republican from Dunn, said spending cuts were badly needed to tame the deficit, but that the automatic reductions would include “disastrous” military cuts.

“The cuts to our military are substantial,” she said. “We have a duty to protect our nation and economic interests through a strong military. These cuts will have lasting damage and I continue to fight against them being enacted.”

Ellmers said the White House was “launching a nationwide campaign to spin the facts and blame Republicans for their own inaction.” The Republicans had a plan to cut spending, she said.

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, a Concord Republican, described the North Carolina-specific cuts as “political posturing.” He said President Barack Obama could choose to cut bureaucrats at federal agencies, such as the Department of Education, instead of reducing the funding that eliminates jobs for North Carolina teachers and aides.

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, said the automatic cuts were “a necessary evil.”

“I’d rather drill the cavity to save the tooth,” Pittenger said.

He said the president, however, was using “doomsday” scenarios in North Carolina as a campaign tool against Republicans in hopes of hurting them in the 2014 elections.

Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton, one of the top-ranking Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee, said he opposed the approach of automatic cuts from the start.

“We must get government spending under control, but I strongly oppose sequestration which indiscriminately makes across-the-board cuts without considering the disproportionate impacts being caused!” he said in a statement Monday. He called for working together on a bipartisan solution.

The automatic cuts extend beyond this year, but the focus of the warnings was on program cuts set to occur over the coming months. For North Carolina, those include:

Law enforcement: $401,000 less in grants that support prosecutors, courts, corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness programs.

Health: $911,000 less in federal money to respond to infectious diseases and natural and man-made disasters, and nearly $2 million less for substance abuse treatment.

Seniors: $1.5 million less for meals.

Domestic violence: $205,000 to aid 800 victims. Lynn Bonner of The News and Observer in Raleigh contributed.

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