BERLIN — With the clock ticking on the expected billions of dollars of cuts in funding for several programs including furloughs and layoffs of employees in Maryland and across the nation, bipartisan federal lawmakers late yesterday were no closer to reaching an accord on the anticipated sequestration.
Earlier this year, federal officials avoided an approaching “fiscal cliff” with an 11th hour agreement to stave off drastic cuts in programs and of jobs, but the accord was temporary and that bill is expected to come due today, March 1, if Congress could not come to an agreement on the budget. Depending on one’s political bent, the pending “sequestration” is either a necessary purging of unnecessary spending, or the draconian result of a stubborn, bipartisan impasse. In either case, the anticipated spending cuts triggered by sequestration will have serious consequences in Maryland and its counties, and across the nation.
According to a White House state-by-state report on the expected consequences, Maryland is expected to lose over $14 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting about 200 teaching jobs at risk. In addition, around 12,000 fewer students would be served and roughly 30 fewer schools would receive federal funding. Head Start services would be eliminated for about 800 students in Maryland and many after school programs would be reduced or cut out altogether.
Because of its close proximity to the nation’s capital, around 46,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed in Maryland, reducing gross pay by around $354 million. Local and regional airports across the country could have their air traffic control towers shut down, including the Salisbury-Wicomico-Ocean City Airport, which would be among the airports to have their towers closed as of April 1.
As of late yesterday, it remained uncertain if Congress could find some middle ground to avoid sequestration and the associated dramatic cuts. One thing that is certain, however, is the battle is clearly divided along partisan lines. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said this week the spending cuts would seriously derail the progress the state has made in its economic recovery.
“These are job-killing cuts that are an economic threat to Maryland,” said O’Malley. “Too many moms and dads in our state will lose jobs, too many children will lose access to programs like Head Start and too many of our most vulnerable Marylanders will lose assistance from the safety net we’ve worked so hard to protect. If Congress cannot come together with a balanced approach to avoid these automatic cuts, we will reverse much of the progress we’ve made in Maryland creating jobs and expanding opportunities for more families.”
State Senator Jim Mathias said state lawmakers are keeping a close eye on the situation and are hoping an agreement can be reached.
“Everybody is very concerned about it,” he said. “We’re really starting to catch our wind in Maryland in this recovering economy and people are starting to get their confidence back. We can’t afford another setback, so hopefully they’ll reach an agreement to avoid this.”
However, Delegate Mike McDermott cautioned against the “sky is falling” mantra being professed by many Democrats and the media.
“This is really much ado about nothing,” he said. “In a trillion dollar budget, we’re talking about around $80 billion in cuts. So much government money is utilized on things that are a waste, you wouldn’t even notice if they were cut. It would be like riding over a speed bump.”
McDermott acknowledged the expected cuts could impact several federal, state and local programs, but suggested the cuts still represented an increase for many.
“If the government plans on increasing spending by 7 percent, and sequestration says only expand by 5 percent, that’s still an increase,” he said.
U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski said the proposed spending cuts will seriously derail slowly recovering federal, state and local economies.
“Sequester will cripple air transportation, causing ripple effects across the economy and costing us jobs we can’t afford to lose,” she said. “Sequester will be devastating to local economies and the national economy.”
Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Andy Harris said the president and Democratic leadership seems content on letting the deadline pass without a resolution.
“House Republicans have already passed two bills that would offset President Obama’s sequester set to take effect on March 1,” said Harris. “The Senate has failed to pass anything and, in fact, President Obama and Senate Democrats have failed to even put a plan forward. The House has done its job, but the Senate and the President have not.”