By Mark Lisheron | Watchdog.org
AUSTIN – Assuming the worst, the clarity of the call from Stephen Alexander came as a bit of a shock.
No buffeting wind noise. No panic in his voice. Alexander was returning the call from inside an office and not the ledge outside the top of the airport tower.
Alexander, part of the private Texas Aviation Partners Inc. team that runs San Marcos (TX) Municipal Airport, was aware the airport might lose funding to man the tower if Congress and the President did nothing to head off the sequester at the end of this month.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had given the head’s up to Alexander and the rest of his “aviation colleagues” in a letter issued late last week.
The shuttering of hundreds of airport towers was part of a state-by-state inventory of automatic spending cuts that will be initiated, according to President Obama, because “many Republicans in Congress refuse to ask the wealthy to pay a little more by closing tax loopholes so that we can protect investments that are helping grow our economy and keep our country safe.”
A considerably different explanation for the sequester, one hewing to fact rather than partisan finger-jabbing, can be found here.
And it might also bear pointing out that while the amanuenses in the press have dutifully repeated the White House threat of $85 billion in sequester cuts, the actual figure for 2013, according to the federal government’s own Congressional Budget Office, is $44 billion. The rest of the reductions in future proposed spending would come in subsequent years.
Hogtied by the sequester, Congress would be forced to live with $44 billion or 1.2 percent less than the $3.6 trillion it was all set to spend in 2013.
That view from 35,000 feet might be reassuring, but what about all those cuts, in every state in the Union, to military installations, law enforcement, public health, our elderly and our young?
In Texas, 52,000 Department of Defense employees furloughed to save $274.8 million. The $8.5 million in grants to help keep our water and air clean. The $3.6 million that would have put food in the mouths of our seniors.
What about those 19 small airports like San Marcos Municipal that won’t be able to rely on their airport towers to keep them safe?
“As it is now our tower operates half of the time,” Alexander says, rather coolly, given the current climate of sequester doom. “In the grand scheme, the vast majority of the airports in this country don’t have towers at all, and they operate just fine.”
Don’t get Alexander wrong. Furloughing six full-time tower employees who work in pairs to man the tower from 7a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week year-round isn’t pleasant. But it isn’t a catastrophe, either.
“It’s like having a traffic cop at an intersection. It’s probably safer at the intersection when the cop is there, but when he isn’t, you still have traffic, and you still have traffic signs. It’s still going to be safe,” Alexander said.
The sequester wasn’t frightening Larry Meyers, either. Meyers is the director of planning and development for Child Inc., the Head Start program in Austin. Child Inc. gets as much as $16 million of its annual $20 million budget from federal Head Start funding.
The sequester, the President’s warning assessment said, would cut 4,800 preschool Texans out of the program.
Meyers said all official statements about the program were to come from executive director Albert Black. However, Meyers said the sequester warning didn’t outline how those 4,800 children would be culled from hundreds of Head Start programs serving hundreds of thousands of children. Child Inc. serves 2,130 alone.
“There’s not a whole hell of a lot we can do about it,” Meyers said. “There will be an impact, and we will agonize over it. But I suspect they’ll wait until the last minute before doing something about it.
“It’s a lousy way to do business. A pox on all of them.”
A spot check of other programs facing sequester cuts indicated that while no one likes to be told not to spend whatever they want, no one is talking all of the money away.
The STOP Violence Against Women program in Texas stands to lose $543,000 in the sequestration. That is 6.2 percent of the $8.7 million Texas received in 2012 for the program through the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women.
The federal government issued more than $400 million in grants last year through the Office on Violence against Women.
The sequester threatens to rob Texas of $1.1 million in grants to help ensure that justice is served in our court system. This amounts to about 14 percent of the $7.7 million the state received in 2012 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
But should all hell break loose, you can cancel your plans to see the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels precision flight team perform April 13-14 in Corpus Christi or Oct. 19-20 in Fort Worth.
You can blame the sequester, but the budget hawks have been after America’s favorite flying circus and its $37 million annual budget for a while now.
Thank goodness for all of their precision training. Because after March 1 there won’t be an airport tower in America open to bring the Blue Angels in.
Reason enough to reconsider the sequester.
Contact Mark Lisheron at [email protected].
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