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Sequestration threatens local airports, public schools

February 26, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
With no serious negotiations made between the White House and Congress, automatic federal budget cuts are scheduled to kick in Friday. The budgets cuts, aimed to help save the U.S. more than a trillion dollars, will affect low-income Americans, local airports and public schools in California.

Los Angeles International Airport would likely not be affected by the cuts, but many small airports, like Burbank Bob Hope Airport and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, would likely be forced to furlough its employees. The cuts could lead to delays of up to 90 minutes during peak travel times.

At Ontario International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration says it may be forced to eliminate its overnight shift in the control tower.

In California, 23 small airports could see their air traffic control facilities closed. In Southern California, 11 small airports, including Santa Monica Airport, Whiteman Airport in Pacoima and General William J. Fox Airfield in Lancaster, could feel the pain of $600 million in cuts.

The federal budget cuts would also affect public schools in California. The state Department of Education estimates that between grants for low-income kids and special education students, Head Start and other programs, classrooms will lose $260 million. That's roughly 2,000 teachers and aides receiving pink layoff slips.

Los Angeles Unified School District could lose $37 million if the federal stalemate is not resolved. The standoff comes after California voters passed Proposition 30, a higher property tax to help restore $2.7 billion in funding cuts.

"Our kids here in Los Angeles public schools have been denied essential services, great teachers, lots of valued employees for so long that it's time to turn this thing around," said Tom Waldman, LAUSD's director of communications.

There could also be reductions in federal payments that subsidize clean energy, school construction and state and local public works projects. Low-income Americans seeking heating assistance or housing or other aid might encounter longer waits. The 2 million long-term unemployed could also see their checks reduced by 10 percent.

"We've been informed by the U.S. Department of Labor that the employment benefit amounts for long-term unemployed individuals could be cut by as much as 10 percent," said Loree Levy of the state Employment Development Department.

Programs providing meals for the elderly could find their food budgets cut ten percent. Around 64,000 civilian employees of the U.S. Defense Department could also be furloughed.

The state could be hit by more than $3 billion in defense cuts if the sequester goes into effect. San Diego County faces the biggest cuts, followed by Los Angeles County. It could impact jobs at defense contractors.

The Pentagon cuts won't apply to service members, so the effects would be felt in base operations and outside contractors. Thousands of civilian workers could be furloughed.

Former California Gov. and U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson says the state can't afford to lose one more job.

"I think it's potentially perilous," said Wilson, who also served on the Senate's Armed Services Committee. "A lot of the contractors who provide the weaponry and all of the technology that goes with it are small businesses.

Among the jobs that could be eliminated are nearly 60 at Travis Air Force Base in the Bay Area and 97 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. They include positions such as civil engineering, communications and services.

Public safety would also be on the chopping block, meaning fewer FBI and drug enforcement agents on California streets.

President Obama wants to replace the "sequester" with a different deficit reduction plan, a package of targeted cuts and tax increases. Republican leaders insist the savings should come from reduced spending alone.

The last known conversation between President Obama and GOP leaders was last week, and there have been no in-person meetings between the parties this year.

The president planned to appear Tuesday at Virginia's largest industrial employer, Newport News Shipbuilding, which would be affected by cuts to naval spending. Republicans are criticizing the president for taking his arguments outside Washington instead of staying to work out a plan before Friday's deadline.


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