WASHINGTON, D.C. (WHNT) – Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle sent out a message from his trip to Washington, D.C. Battle is meeting with Congressional and Senatorial leaders to discuss the impact of sequestration.
The message reads as follows:
One thing is for certain; there is a wealth of diverse opinions in Washington, D.C.
Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong, Enterprise Mayor Kenneth Boswell (Fort Rucker), Retired General Rod Wolf (former president of AAAA) and I met with seven House and Senate offices today. The topic was sequestration and its effect on our local economy.
For more than five years the Defense Department and the rest of the U.S. government have been limping along on a Continuing Resolution (CR) on spending. When Congress raised the debt ceiling in 2011 and could not come to an agreement on debt reduction, part of the deal included an imposed sequestration; a series of harsh budget cuts totaling $1.2 trillion (through 2021) that would take effect January 2, 2013.
Evenly split between defense and domestic discretionary spending, the proposed cuts were so drastic, no one in Washington thought they would ever be allowed to take effect. Leaders mistakenly believed the threat of a sequester would force Congress to agree on a reduced budget plan. Instead, Congress extended the sequester start date to go into effect March 1. As a result, the Congressional paralysis and the threat of sequestration have been crippling our local businesses.
Top firms in are area holding back on hiring and future planning, including expansions, because they don’t know what the U.S. government is going to do. The first effects of sequestration will be shouldered on our federal employees. Notices went out today warning of furloughs. We are told this means federal employees will work a 32-hour week and receive a 20 percent pay cut. I think most offices will still expect employees to accomplish the same amount of work that they had in a 40-hour week. Temporary employees will lose their jobs and term employees will not be rehired.
The military armed forces (Army) would start feeling the effect in FY 2014. The talk on Capitol Hill is that active duty rosters will be cut from 540,000 to fewer than 400,000.
Sequestration also affects schools. The Huntsville City School system will lose $1.7 million and the Enterprise School system will lose around $1.5 million. These will be difficult cuts to absorb in systems that have already endured systematic cuts throughout the recession.
The overall sentiment in the Congressional offices we visited today is that our country will go into sequestration on March 1. Some of the offices believe it will take about 30 days for the real impact to hit.
A few offices were hopeful that Congress would turn the situation around by the time the CR ran out on March 27. The hopeful ones were those representatives with a heavy military presence in their congressional districts. Those without military bases gave the impression they are “okay” with sequestration staying in place.
There is some talk of a defense appropriation bill by Hal Rodgers that would be combined with a CR for the rest of the budget. Some offices believe this might work if it follows the guidelines of National Defense Acquisition (NDA) that passed the House last December. Most were skeptical of the ability of the House to put that together.
There is a lot of finger pointing and “we vs. they” talk throughout the delegations. The promising part was the fact that two offices made statements about “forgetting party lines,” and “we have to do something.” The House has terrific distrust for both Administration and the Senate. They fear both parties are working to make them look bad.
The common thread we discovered is that these Congressional offices are not getting any public feedback on this issue. There is a lot of noise about gun control and immigration, but no public outcry about sequestration. If anything is going to happen, the public has to get involved and they need to speak up quickly. Several of the offices said it would up to the Senate to start the negotiation process to come up with a budget or even a CR. The two Senate leaders that have the might and clout to do that are Alabama’s Senator Richard Shelby and Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski.
Our “ask” of the legislative offices today was not to “kick the can down the road.” Good, bad, or indifferent, we need a budget. Our military commands will adapt. Our local businesses will adapt. The uncertainty of a CR is worse than sequestration.
Our other “ask” was that Congress not burden the civilian workforce with all the pain. It is not fair. Less pay and a mandatory shortened workweek is something we would not do in private industry and it should not be done in government.
We don’t know the full effect of our visit, but we did everything in our power to make certain our message was heard in Washington, D.C. We recognize the country must come to grips with its financial future. Let’s do so in the right way.