Sequestration would hit local programs

10:49 PM, Feb 22, 2013   |    comments
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Like so many political debates, the standoff in the nation's capital over federal spending has been somewhat of an abstraction for months on end.

That could change, though, starting next week.

With just about everyone now agreeing that the March 1 deadline for avoiding automatic spending cuts -- sequestration -- will be missed, the real question seems to be how long before those cuts are felt... and where will they hit hardest.

In the Sacramento region, the impacts could be numerous: less money for community policing programs that rely on federal cash, $42 million less in research funding at UC Davis (and as much as $335 million less for the entire University of California system), and a share of the national cuts to low-income schools and programs like Head Start.

The cuts would also impact agencies like Sacramento Metro Fire, which has relied on federal grants in recent years to replace recession-depleted property taxes.

"At the end of the day, that's what's been able to provide the limited amount of service we can get out there," said Sac Metro Fire Chief Kurt Henke.  "And if they can't come to an agreement back in D.C., those are the types of things that are going to impact us directly."

None of the sequestration cuts, a combination of military and general government reductions, would happen overnight.  Unlike the impact of the payroll tax resumption on New Year's Day, reductions in projected federal spending take time to be felt.  That means that there's nothing magical about the March 1 deadline, though it will mean lighting a fuse that ultimately find its explosive destination.

The cuts are also considered by some economists to be enough to re-aggravate the nation's economic woes.  In California, estimates are that could cause another multi-billion dollar state budget deficit to emerge over the next 18 months.

"That isn't how you manage a budget," says Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, who spent much of the weeklong congressional recess meeting with locals, including Metro Fire officials on Friday.

Bera, sworn into office months after the deal between Congress and President Barack Obama that created the automatic budget cuts, says the across-the-board approach of the sequestration is the wrong approach.

And there's some local bipartisan support on that idea.

"It treats the best programs the same as the worst," says Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove.  But the GOP congressman nonetheless opposes any attempt to extinguish the sequestration fuse, because of what he describes as the magnitude of the federal government's fiscal woes.

"The overall reductions established by the sequestration absolutely are essential if we're to have any hope of getting our out of control spending back under control," he says.

Bera, on the other hand, says he favors an approach more along the lines of the 2010 Simpson-Bowles bipartisan cut-and-tax proposal, a trimmed down version of which was unveiled last week.

"There are things in there that I don't like," said the newcomer Democrat.  "But it's big enough that it starts to address the debt and deficit."

Back on the front lines, with those whose job is public safety, there isn't much patience for the idea of more partisan posturing -- from either party.

"Those of us that have a responsibility for delivering those services," said fire chief Henke, "expect people to get in a room, come to a deal, compromise, and deliver to the people."


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