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Beale, local agencies bracing for federal cuts
In just over a week, Beale Air Force Base, and other local agencies that rely on federal funding, are bracing for impact.
As of March 1, the stipulated federal budget cuts for both defense and nondefense spending would affect a broad number of areas. But Beale, the most visible federal presence in the Yuba-Sutter area, would likely also have the most visible reverberations.
On Wednesday, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sent a letter to military employees stating if the cuts come as expected, the majority of civilian military employees would be subject to an administrative furlough.
“I can assure you that, if we have to implement furloughs, all affected employees will be provided at least 30 days' notice prior to executing a furlough and your benefits will be protected to the maximum extent possible,” Panetta said in the letter.
While a Beale spokesman said direct effects on the base from the budget cuts probably won’t be known until the deadline grows closer, an analysis released last week by US Rep. John Garamendi said 1,400 Beale employees could be subject to such furloughs.
Those furloughs would translate to $13 million in lost pay and more than 260,000 lost productivity hours, according to Garamendi’s office. As well, $1.3 million in construction projects at the base could be deferred or canceled, according to the analysis.
Cuts in civilian pay and other base spending would translate into an effect on the local economy, though how much is still to be determined.
“It makes no sense,” Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said Wednesday. “It’s a foolish way to deal with spending.”
Already, Beale officials have been tightening belts in anticipation of the cuts, which are also known as sequestration.
Base spokesman Tech Sgt. Eric Petosky said in an email that non-mission-essential spending, such as training and airshow participation, have already been and would likely continue to face larger cuts under sequestration.
What is sequestration?
Sequestration refers to the planned automatic federal budget cuts set to go into effect March 1.
The cuts were stipulated in summer 2011 as an alternative to a federal commission spending plan to cut federal debt, and were originally supposed to go into effect Jan. 1.
An end-of-the-year budget deal in December to keep the country from going over what was called “the fiscal cliff” pushed back the sequestration effect date to next Friday.
Not affected by sequestration
These federal budget categories are not affected by sequestration budget cuts, which are set to go into effect March 1:
- Social Security benefits
- All programs administered by the Veterans Administration
- Payments to individuals in the form of refundable tax credits
- Most programs aimed at low-income residents, such as Medicare, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and federal Pell Grants
- Medicare Part D low-income premium and cost-sharing subsidies
- Student loans
- Federal pay and administrative expenses
Agreement still possible
It’s not certain the $85 billion in cuts set to go into effect on March 1 will come to pass.
Representatives on both sides of the political aisle, including in Yuba-Sutter, said it’s still possible Congress will come to an agreement to forestall the most devastating cuts before then. But with Congress out this week, it’s easy to see why there’s skepticism.
Newly elected US Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said he sees the cuts as the start of a discussion about federal spending and what the country can afford.
“This is a pretty small fraction of the overall budget,” said LaMalfa, adding he thinks it’s good for directors at federal agencies to be more thoughtful about what they spend and where they spend it.
“If we can’t make these small corrections, how will we ever get serious in the future?” he said, referring to projections of growing federal deficits for decades to come.
But US Rep. John Garamendi said the cuts as outlined are a poor approach to getting the nation’s fiscal house in order.
House minority Democrats, he said, have introduced an alternative plan to avoid the March 1 plan, partially through budget cuts and partially through ending tax breaks for oil companies, among others.
So far, said Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, the Republican leadership in the House hasn’t let the proposal come up for a vote.
LaMalfa said his party has approved its own alternative plan to the budget cuts, but the US Senate, where Democrats are a majority, hasn’t voted on it. Nor has President Obama taken a leadership role, he said.
As a former state legislator, LaMalfa said, he learned a looming deadline was a good motivator, and the March 1 deadline may work the same way.
Cuts extend further
Not all March 1 federal budget cuts will be confined to Beale Air Force Base.
Though many agencies are still figuring out exactly how, those in the US Army Corps of Engineers and the North Central Counties Consortium know they’re going to feel it.
Mike Inamine, executive director of the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency, said the biggest impact to the agency would be in the form of $255 million in staff cuts nationwide to the Corps, where personnel have to sign off on a permit to allow the Sutter Butte agency to do work on a major Feather River levee project.
It’s unclear whether the cuts would affect the levee project, but Inamine said they are the agency’s number one concern.
“We don’t know what the outcome will be until the 11th hours,” Inamine said.
At the Consortium, which provides workforce training and other services for the unemployed in four counties, the cut would be between 8 percent and 10 percent, said executive director Nancy Crooks, or about $300,000 to $350,000 from the annual budget.
Crooks said initially her office would reduce staff at One Stop offices, including those in Sutter and Yuba counties, and then cut back on training. No cuts would go into effect until July 1, the beginning of the agency’s fiscal year, she said.
“I think they really need to examine our economy and see where our needs are,” she said, pointing out federal officials often speak about job training as the way to improve the nation’s economy. “How do we do that if we’re cutting training?”
Some effects won’t be direct.
Because of Medicare cuts, officials at Rideout Health would expect to see a $2.1 million budget reduction over the next year.
And not all government agencies are directly concerned.
Spokesmen for both Yuba and Sutter counties said so far, they haven’t identified any major cuts to the counties’ budgets as a result of the federal cuts.
Still, as Sutter County spokesman Chuck Smith said, “If sequestration has a negative impact on the economy in general, all local governments will feel it.”