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State could lose millions with sequestration cuts

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at 6:36 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at 10:58 a.m.

Kansas will lose at least $79 million in funding for the state’s military bases and face about $10.8 million in cuts to education this year if Congress and the president can’t reach agreement to head off automatic budget cuts scheduled to begin Friday, according to a new White House report.

Those and other Kansas-specific cuts — part of the national sequestration debate — are detailed in a state-by-state report released by the White House Sunday evening.

Staffs for Kansas’ two senators and Wichita’s House representative were reviewing the numbers Monday and said they think there may be less painful ways to implement cuts than what the White House has described.

“Washington should be more than capable of cutting less than three percent of its nearly four trillion dollar budget,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Dodge City said in an e-mail. “In fact, considering our staggering national debt and the dramatic increase in federal spending under President Obama, we should be able to cut more. However, these savings won’t be achieved through bully pulpit scare tactics and localized threats via White House press release.”

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, who also responded to questions via e-mail, had a similar reaction to the White House report.

“This small dose of fiscal discipline will need not result in the calamities President Obama is suggesting,” Pompeo said. “It simply requires leadership. Every day, Kansas’ small businesses have to figure out how to survive with lower revenues and drops in sales and, goodness knows, higher costs because of this president’s regulations.”

The Kansas-specific cuts detailed in the White House report include:

•  Military spending — A $78 million reduction in operating funds for the state’s Army bases plus $1 million for Air Force operations. The report said 8,000 civilian employees would be given unpaid furloughs, reducing gross pay by $36.7 million. The report was not clear on whether the furloughs would be included in the base operations cuts or in addition to them, and the White House press office was not immediately able to clarify that. If the furloughs are in addition to the base operations reduction, the military spending cut in the state would total $115.7 million.

•  Schools — Kansas would lose $5.5 million in funding for elementary and secondary schools, which the White House said would put about 80 teacher and aide jobs at risk. The state also would lose about $5.3 million in funding for an additional 60 teachers, aides and staff who provide services to children with disabilities.

•  Head Start and child care — Cuts would eliminate funding for approximately 500 children who attend early education programs and another 400 children of low-income working parents who receive assistance in paying for child care.

•  Higher education — About 310 fewer Kansas students would receive financial aid for college and 140 fewer students would be offered work-study jobs to help pay for their education.

•  Senior nutrition — The state would lose $209,000 that helps provide meals for elderly residents.

•  Environment — Kansas would lose about $1.8 million in funding for programs to ensure clean air and water and to prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, the state would lose $772,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection.

•  Job search and training — Kansas would lose about $322,000 for job assistance, meaning about 11,130 fewer people would receive training and assistance in finding work.

•  Public health — Kansas would not receive more than $1 million in grants, including $610,000 for substance abuse, prevention and treatment; $273,000 to prepare for responses to threats such as infectious disease outbreaks, bioterrorism, nuclear or chemical accidents; $85,000 for childhood vaccinations; and $65,000 for HIV testing.

•  Law enforcement — The state would lose $149,000 in justice administration grants supporting various programs for police, courts, corrections, drug treatment and victim and witness assistance.

•  Domestic violence — Kansas would lose about $61,000 in funds, resulting in as many as 200 domestic-violence victims not receiving services.

Kansas also would be affected by nationwide cuts in federal services such as aviation safety and security, emergency response, immigration enforcement, food safety, small-business loans and mental-health treatment, the White House said. Kansas-specific amounts were not detailed in the report.

The automatic budget cuts, called the sequester, total about $85 billion nationwide for the rest of 2013.

The sequester was part of a deal struck in August between the president and Congress that averted going over the so-called fiscal cliff.

The compromise plan raised the national debt ceiling so the country didn’t have to default on its debts. At the same time it dictated massive spending cuts to reduce the federal debt. The cuts are about evenly split between the defense and domestic budgets.

At the time, the cuts contained in the sequester were designed to be politically painful, to put pressure on Congress and the president to compromise on a deficit-reduction plan.

That hasn’t happened and it appears unlikely a deal will be struck before the cuts begin to take effect Friday.

Republicans have accused President Obama of attempting to inflate the level of crisis the sequester would cause to rally the public to his side. They say the cuts would amount to only about 2 to 3 percent of federal spending and could be accomplished without major disruption.

Pompeo said he doesn’t think the sequester cuts enough.

“This bill isn’t perfect,” Pompeo said. “For instance, it only cuts $85 billion and doesn’t begin to address our long-term fiscal problems. It also impacts national security in ways that simply do not make sense by tying the hands of our military leaders needlessly. The House has twice passed legislation to address this concern.”

Added Roberts: “The President should be working with Congress to find more responsible alternatives to the sequester like eliminating waste, fraud and abuse and making sensible cuts to auto-pilot spending, rather than scaring the American people while demanding higher taxes.”

Obama and his Democratic supporters accuse the Republicans of obstructing progress to protect their wealthy supporters.

The president has advocated for solving the sequester through what he calls a balanced package of some spending cuts and closure of tax loopholes that primarily benefit the richest Americans.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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