By Kirk Carapezza
States are bracing for pending federal budget reductions set to take hold in just four days unless Congress and the White House strike a deal to avert what lawmakers in Washington are calling sequestration.
In Vermont, the White House says education and the military could see some of the biggest reductions if the automatic, across-the-board cuts go into effect on Friday. Military leaders in Vermont admit they’ve grown accustomed to the relentless chatter of fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings and sequestration in Washington.
“I think it’s becoming more real as we get closer and closer to the first of March,” said Vermont Army Guard Colonel Mark Lovejoy.
Vermont Air Guard Colonel Joel Clark, who oversees budgets, says leadership has learned not to pass down any anxiety to low-ranking airmen or soldiers. “At our level, it certainly can get frustrating looking at possible impacts and then they don’t come and then we get on with what we’re going to do and then all of a sudden here we are again with another deadline.”
If the White House and Congress fail to act by Friday, approximately 1,000 military-civilian employees in Vermont would be furloughed. Last week, the Vermont National Guard learned that sequestration would likely take hold at the end of this week. That move has the potential to squeeze training, limit recruitment, decrease equipment maintenance and reduce the number of flying hours for the F-16 fighter jets.
But on the ground at Camp Johnson, Col. Clark says the average soldier is grappling with the idea of seeing his or her paycheck slashed one day per week over the course of 22 weeks.
“You’re talking a potential 20 percent impact to someone’s pay. So I don’t know anybody out there who is just going to be able to say I can easily accept that type of pay cut,” Col. Clark said. “We’re going to do everything we can to minimize the impact on the individual should it go the full 22 weeks.”
Brig. Gen. Steven Cray is set to take over as the next adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard on the same day sequestration cuts are scheduled to begin.
“I guess it’s going to be either congratulations or condolences on March 1,” said Cray, who expects spending reductions to alter the Guard’s priorities.
“We will have to make some tough choices and there will be a readiness level decrease in our capabilities,” he said. “We have to balance that as well with making sure that we have enough people ready to respond – and the equipment ready to respond – to a natural disaster here in the states.”
Gov. Peter Shumlin was in Washington over the weekend for a meeting of the National Governors’ Association. He criticized Republicans in Congress for gridlock on Capitol Hill and the impact sequestration could have on his state and the military. “We are going to compromise the ability of the National Guard to do what they do best, which is keep us safe,” Shumlin said.
Guard members said on Monday that budget debates in Washington are inherently frustrating, but it’s the uncertainty of sequestration that is deteriorating their confidence in Congress.
Earlier: Vermont’s New Adjutant General