North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

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February 27, 2013

Sequestration cutbacks probably won't affect local cities much

Barring any last-minute compromises between President Barack Obama and Republican opposition in the U.S. House of Repre­sentatives by this Friday, a process called “sequestration” will trigger automatic cutbacks in federal spending.

But how much that will affect local cities — if it affects them at all — remains to be seen.

The White House released on Sunday a state-by-state list of cuts that will be imposed if a compromise is not reached between the two sides by March 1. If no agreement is reached, then the Budget Control Act of 2011 stipulates that automatic cuts be made to a wide range of federal departments and programs.

Cutbacks to defense spending in Alabama would be the largest category, by far more than all others combined. The White House claims that the state’s military installations would lose almost $177 million in funding for civilian Department of Defense employees, who would be furloughed, with Army base operation funds cut by $91 million and Air Force operations cut by about $8 million. About 27,000 employees would face furloughs that would reduce their work schedules to four days a week, the report states.

Alabama is home to five military installations: Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base at Montgomery, Anniston Army Depot, Fort Rucker near Ozark, Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, and the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center at Mobile.

Among the other cutbacks that the Obama Administration claims will be made in Alabama:

• $11 million in funding for primary and secondary education, “putting around 150 teacher and aide jobs at risk”; the report claims that 40 fewer schools would receive funding

• Approximately 1,100 children would lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start programs

• As many as 500 disadvantaged children could lose access to child care, though the White House does not give specifics of any kind

• More than 2,100 children would not receive access to various vaccines, due to a loss of $144,000

• About $865,000 in cuts would be made to nutrition assistance for seniors.

Republicans dispute many of the assertions in the state-by-state reports, and also contend that the federal government would still spend more in this fiscal year than last, because sequestration would simply cut the rate of increase in spending because of the longstanding Washington practice of baseline budgeting — basing budgets for a new year on what was spent in the previous one, instead of starting from zero.

Moreover, conservatives are taking notice of a report by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward — half of the journalistic partnership with Carl Bernstein that broke the Watergate scandal story, resulting in the resignation of President Richard Nixon — that the idea of sequestration originally came from the Obama White House, and that blame for doing nothing to avert the automatic cuts should fall on Obama, not the GOP.

That’s all Washington politics, though, to local mayors who are more concerned with potholes and parks. One local mayor thinks that either Obama or House Republicans will give in before Friday, much as what happened with the “fiscal cliff” negotiations in January.

“My jaded opinion is that both sides will come together at the last minutes to keep from taking the blame for anything,” Kimberly Mayor Bob Ellerbrock said. “We don’t get a lot from the feds in Kimberly. What we get typically trickles down from the state. We get gasoline tax revenue from them, for instance.”

Ellerbrock said the only direct effect may come from cuts to senior nutrition programs.

Kimberly actually faced a similar situation in the past few years, as tax revenues declined. City employees were cut back to four-day work weeks, much as the White House claims will happen with civilian defense workers.

“Unlike the federal government, our budget constraints really are budget constraints,” Ellerbrock said.

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