Spending cuts loom; impact includes Hill Air Force Base, legal system

By Shara Park | Posted - Mar 1st, 2013 @ 10:07pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — Friday is the day federal automatic spending cuts are set to kick in. Everything from the military to education could feel the impact over time.

The $85 billion in cuts do not go into effect until just before midnight Eastern Time. President Barack Obama will meet with Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate Friday, but there is little sign there will be any sort of vote to stop the sequestration.

Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner dismissed the House and members from both parties hurried to their cars so they could fly home.

Each party blames the other for not being willing to negotiate.

"Both sides are saying 'This is dumb, this horrible, should never have happened,' " said Kirk Jowers, Hinckley Institute of Politics representative. "But they're playing the blame game and we're, as always, stuck paying the bill."

Utah's own congressional delegation was frustrated on Friday at the lack of compromise, as individual efforts to solve the crisis have been discarded.

The sequester is predicted to have wide-reaching impact. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert told KSL Newsradio Friday morning that the state should be able to absorb the predicted cuts.

"It's not going to be ‘the sky is falling' that we're hearing out of Washington D.C. by too many, including the president," he said. "But it will have some impact."

He predicted the effect of the cuts would be felt over the next seven months or so. He agreed it's the new reality that the state will need to make do with fewer federal dollars.

"We can't continue to spend like drunken sailors in Washington D.C., which is an embarrassment to drunken sailors," he said.

Legal Impact

If the cuts take place, money will be lost from law enforcement, public safety, crime prevention and prosecution, among other things.

According to a White House breakdown of the impact, Utah stands to lose about $119,000 in Justice Assistance Grants, which support the areas above, plus courts, corrections, drug treatment enforcement and witness initiatives.

The state also stands to lose up to $59,000 in funds for victims of domestic violence, resulting in 200 fewer victims being helped.

Former prosecutor for Salt Lake County, Kent Morgan, said there are likely to be more plea bargains and fewer charges or cases filed.

"I think what is going to happen is when you have less resources to draw from, fewer resources with respect to investigations, then the cases that are given less attention are going to go further down on the priority list," he said.

Morgan said an inadequate amount of law enforcement investigating cases due to lack of funds would directly impact prosecution. He said suspected murders will be the courts' first priority, but after that, cases would be looked at based on priority.

Gov. Herbert said the public will still be safe, however.

"Planes are not going to fall out of the air. Public safety will do their work," he said.

Hill Air Force Base

In Utah, thousands of furloughs, program cuts and outright layoffs could have an effect in areas like Layton, where civilian jobs at Hill Air force base will be effected.

The unemployment in Utah could become the lowest in the nation with amount of job cuts, and pay cuts to 20 to 30 percent await 15,000 workers at Hill Air Force Base if Congress and the President can't beat sequestration.

All workers will be furloughed for 22 days, which means electricians like Monty Lewis won't be able to return fighter jets to the war in Afghanistan.

"We need to make a good living too," Lewis said. "We work hard for our money; I wish people would realize that. Please Congress, pass a budget and stop the sequestration."

Utah stands to lose $16 million in Army base operation funding and $2 million in Air Force operations. By law, the government must give furloughed employees at least 30 days' notice. It's unknown when that notice would be issued.

Overall, the government must find a way to cut $85 billion in the next seven months. Half of it will come from the Defense Department, the other half from domestic programs.

Dave Hardman, president of the Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce, said the anticipated cuts to Hill Air Force Base will have serious implications not only for local residents who may be forced from their homes or to take on a second job, but for the country's military readiness.

Most notably, he said, it will impact Air Force planes; with less staff it would be more difficult to maintain the aging fleet at Hill Air Force Base, he said. Less money also could mean less training for pilots.

The sequestration also means less staffing and protection by firefighters at Hill. Christopher Gerdes, a firefighter at the base, said his division will also lose overtime pay, which affects their base pay and pension rates.

Local reaction

In the meantime, citizens are expressing concern about the future.

"I think it's rough on families and our community and the whole nation. I think it's really hard and scary," said resident Candice Monson.

Others express frustration with the arguing in Washington.

"It may not be as dramatic as what a lot of parties are trying to make it," Utah resident Doug Child said.

Contributing: Peter Samore, Rich Piatt and Sam Penrod

Video contributing: Mike Anderson

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