Sequestration impact on Arkansas uncertain (Updated)

by The City Wire staff ( 6 views 

Friday is the deadline for Congress and President Barack Obama to come to a compromise on averting automatic budget cuts, also called sequestration, enacted through the Budget Control Act of 2011.

If no compromise is reached, automatic budget cuts of more than $85 billion will automatically be enacted across the entire federal budget that totals more than $3.5 trillion, with additional cuts to come in later years.

According to a study by the Heritage Foundation, based on information provided by the Congressional Budget Office, the cuts that could take place Friday only comprise 2.4% of the entire federal budget.

Officials in the government have said the budget cuts would have a detrimental impact on the economy and the average taxpayer. The White House has even published state-by-state impact data on its website.

But information provided by the White House details only minor cuts to certain programs in Arkansas, a far cry from the doomsday scenarios being portrayed in the media by members of both parties.

The following are among potential budget cuts that could be seen in Arkansas, according to the White House:
• Three hundred fewer low income students in Arkansas could receive aid to help pay for college;
• Nearly 110 fewer students will receive work-study jobs to help pay for college;
• The state could lose nearly $159.000 in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives;
• Arkansas could lose up to $62,000 in funds that provide services to victims of domestic violence; and
• The state could lose approximately $310,000 in funds that provide meals for seniors.

John Parker, director of the Fort Smith Regional Airport, said he found out from a press release that Fort Smith was on a list of airports that could lose overnight control tower shifts due to the sequester, though he said he is not entirely sure of what would happen should the Friday deadline pass with no action by Congress or the President.

"They released that information and followed it up with zero details. We have no earthly idea of whether it will occur, how long it will last," Parker said. "We don't know the total impact of any actions in our particular instance, and we have FAA, TSA and the 188th. To the impact to each one of these organizations, none of them have been given any details."

He said before any layoffs or furloughs could occur, the federal government was required to give employees a 30-day notice.

When reached for comment by The City Wire, no member of Congress from the Arkansas delegation could lay out exactly how the sequester would negatively impact the state of Arkansas aside from generalities.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., provided a link to information on how sequestration could impact Arkansas, though the information provided by Boozman's office did not show impacts as evaluated by the government, but instead relied a third-party's estimate of worst case scenario impacts.

In a statement, Boozman said he was concerned about the impact across-the-board cuts would have on Arkansas.

"We can't continue the reckless spending that has led us to record debt. We need to put our country on the path to fiscal responsibility and that begins with budget cuts. While cutting spending is a good thing, I'm concerned about the across-the-board cuts and the impact on the services Arkansans rely on," Boozman said. "I'm committed to holding the line on cutting $1.2 trillion but we need to have a targeted approach and examine what programs and funds need to be cut or eliminated. That is unlikely to happen before the Friday deadline."

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., echoed much of the same sentiments, claiming that thousands could lose their jobs, but without providing detail about where cuts would be made or where the assumed job loses would take place.

"As I’ve said before, I believe sequestration would be bad for Arkansas. These arbitrary, across-the-board cuts will cause thousands of Arkansas employees to lose their jobs—wreaking havoc on our state’s economy and hurting military members, seniors, middle-class families, and rural communities," Pryor said. "Our budget decisions should be based on the merit and effectiveness of programs. I hope Congress will work together to cut spending while protecting jobs, our economy, and the middle class."

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, placed blame on Obama for the sequester and was the only member contacted to provide any detail on where cuts would take place, claiming that the military in Arkansas will be most impacted, though still not providing detail on what specific cuts the public should be prepared for.

"Regrettably, we’ve reached the point of where blunt, across-the-board budget cuts are needed to put the brakes on President Obama’s 4-year, debt-fueled spending binge. I am working to protect our military from further drastic cuts and to prioritize spending in domestic programs. Meanwhile, President Obama is running around the country, holding campaign-style rallies, and predicting economic Armageddon — from a policy that was his idea," Cotton said. "The real threat to Arkansas’s jobs and economic growth comes from our $17 trillion national debt, something for which President Obama offers no solutions."

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, issued the following statement: "The federal government is addicted to spending, and we desperately need to make real reforms and targeted cuts to address our deficits and debt. Unfortunately, the sequester does not do this. Instead, it irresponsibly and haphazardly implements across-the-board cuts to discretionary and defense spending without addressing the true drivers of our debt: mandatory spending. House Republicans have already passed two bills to replace the sequester with responsible cuts and substantive reforms, and I hope the President and Senate Democrats meet us at the table rather than continuing to insist on additional tax hikes."