SALT LAKE CITY — There are billions of dollars in federal spending cuts set to take effect March 1. If they go through, the cuts could affect Utah in a number of ways.
The possible cuts are the result of a stalemate in Washington, D.C. over the budget, part of what's known as the sequester. In this case, sequester means automatic budget cuts that could be up to $85 billion nationwide.
The sequester differs from the Fiscal Cliff because the cuts to future federal spending would play out month by month through September.
The cuts have the potential to show up in Utah through education, food inspection, homeland security, national defense and more.
If they go through, the cuts will have an impact, but no one knows for sure what that impact will be or how long it will last. Right now, a whole lot of people and agencies are trying to prepare for the unknown.
In Utah, most agree the biggest threat would play out at Hill Air Force Base. For the more than 11,000 civilian employees potentially impacted there, it means furloughs of 22 days — one day per week — as the defense budget shoulders its $42.7 billion share of the cut, or 7.9 percent of its budget.
"And I don't know how the F-16's and stuff like that, I don't understand because they do the parts and stuff for those planes," said Karen Shaw, a military affiliate. "It's going to hurt everybody."
Additionally, civilian air travelers in Utah could face delays: Salt Lake International Airport may have to cover air traffic for both Ogden and Provo airports if hours are cut for air traffic controllers at those smaller facilities. "Well, obviously it's going to get slower right? Lines are going to get longer," said Peter Harris, a traveler passing through Salt Lake.
Forced days off for Transportation Security Administration agents could also slow down the airport security process.
"I think it could affect how safe I feel, just understanding that the less people they could potentially have working, the less they may catch that they need to catch," said Tara Guindon, another air traveler.
Both the Department of Homeland Security's and the Federal Aviation Association's spokespeople say safety and security will not be compromised.
Cuts are also possible for teachers in special education, Utah Head Start, and funding for low-income schools. Food inspectors may slow down though state, but federal agencies insist safety will not suffer.
We've asked our departments to prepare for the worst. Lets hope for the best, but lets anticipate the worst so we're prepared for what happens.
–Gov. Gary Herbert
Cuts could also affect the state's budget, now being scrutinized at the State Capitol.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who said Utah may see a $550 million hit in federal monies, spent Friday in Washington meeting with other members of the National Governors Association on the threats of sequestration and what it will mean to the individual state budgets.
"We've asked our departments to prepare for the worst. Lets hope for the best, but lets anticipate the worst so we're prepared for what happens," Herbert said.
The pending budget cutbacks also could spell trouble for Utah's five national parks, with freezes on hiring, curtailing hours at visitor centers and even compromising visitor safety because fewer park rangers would be available for patrol.