Friday, July 12, 2013

Sequestration in Florida: Caught Off Guard

Published: Friday, July 12, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 11:59 p.m.

Gov. Rick Scott has warned President Barack Obama that plans to temporarily lay off employees of the Florida National Guard could jeopardize the state's ability to prepare for and respond to hurricanes.

Scott and two other Gulf Coast Republican governors asked Obama on Monday to exempt military technicians from furloughs that are part of budget "sequestration."

The governors' concerns may be valid, but their warnings appear to be misdirected.

The president and his administration sounded alarms about the dire consequences of sequestration long before this fiscal year's $85 billion in across-the-board federal budget cuts began on March 1.

On the other hand, many of the governors' fellow Republicans, especially in the U.S. House, seem just fine with sequestration. Few of them expressed any concerns beforehand, or regrets afterward, about the impacts of the cuts.

In fact, on March 1, the day sequestration kicked in, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, told reporters in Sarasota that the cuts were needed.

"Families and small businesses and every business in this region that I know of, most of them have had to make a lot more than a 2 percent cut, and that's what we're really talking about," said Buchanan, who represents Sarasota County and most of Manatee.

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the House Transportation Committee chairman, who joined Buchanan that day for a town hall meeting, called the White House warnings "scare tactics" designed to win headlines.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees homeland security, recently told The Washington Post that the Obama administration would have difficulty persuading Congress that a balance of new revenue and budget cuts is needed to avoid another round of sequestration.

"They're going to have a hard time doing that," Duncan said, "when they had their doomsday scenario and the sky didn't fall."


It's true that many of the dire predictions did not come true, as The Post pointed out in a June 30 article. In some cases, such as the planned furloughs of air-traffic controllers, Congress found programs to cut. In other cases, federal agencies decided they could make do without certain funds.

In other cases, the budget cuts have been as painful as expected or more so. The furloughs at the Florida National Guard, coming during the height of hurricane season, might be among them.

Under the budget cut, about 1,000 employees of the Guard must take a furlough day each week, starting Monday of this week and continuing through Sept. 30, the end of the federal budget year.

The military technicians and civilian employees affected help maintain equipment and facilities, provide medical support, and help with contracting and financial management in addition to other duties.

Scott and the other governors, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal and Mississippi's Phil Bryant, stated in their letter that, because of the layoffs, "equipment readiness ... will be increasingly degraded."


Scott voiced similar concerns last month in a letter to Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. Rubio told a reporter there was not much he could do about the budget cuts short of raising taxes, which he opposes.

Nelson wrote back and said, in part, that if Scott called out the National Guard "in anticipation of a federal disaster, the state's costs, including the cost to recall any furloughed guardsmen, will be fully reimbursable" by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

That, according to the Tampa Bay Times PolitiFact service, is "mostly false."

Scott has a right to be worried about sequestration's impact on Florida's hurricane preparedness. But his concerns should have been directed at Republicans in Congress before the budget cuts were allowed to go forward.

And, with another round of sequestration possible for the next federal fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, he should join Obama in urging Congress to take a balanced approach to the next budget.

Scott should tell his fellow Republicans that, while the sky may not be falling in Washington, it'll get pretty dark over Florida if a hurricane hits.


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