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We may be a little more than halfway through 2013, but in Washington and state governments across the country, the focus is increasingly on federal actions taken in 2011.
The issue can be summed up in one word: sequestration.
While there is not enough space to detail the full effects associated with this steep reduction in federal spending, the history that led us to this point is fairly straightforward. In essence, sequestration is the penalty both Congress and the president agreed to carry out if they could not find a way to trim $1.5 trillion over the next decade. The hope was that the penalty would be so harsh that a deal would be inevitable.
That, we know now, did not occur, and on March 1 of this year, the first round of federal cuts began.
It’s important to note that there is broad agreement on both sides of the aisle that federal spending needs to be pared, but sequestration is more like an axe than a scalpel. Half of the cuts target discretionary defense spending, while the other half hits a wide variety of domestic programs.
There are some understandable exceptions – such as Medicaid, Social Security and benefits to veterans – but the other affected programs will be reduced by $1.2 trillion between now and 2021 if nothing is changed.
According to an analysis by the Washington Post, that means immigration enforcement and border patrol will have a combined $1.4 billion less each and every year, and the FBI will lose about half of that. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and airport security will each be reduced by a half-billion dollars annually, and for federal disaster relief and federal prisons, the individual reductions will be a little higher.
As for defense cuts, which are of course more magnified in states like ours, plans are already underway to do without about $50 billion next federal fiscal year.
Late last month, state officials appeared before the General Assembly’s Appropriations and Revenue Committee to give a clearer picture of what sequestration will mean for Kentucky.
The Department of Education, for example, will see $26 million fewer federal dollars this school year. Nearly a third of that falls on special education programs, meaning increased caseloads and a reduction in needed support staff.
At the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, meanwhile, officials estimate that their programs will lose around $18 million a year. To put that in more concrete terms, that means 26,000 Kentucky homes will not get help heating their homes during the winter, a figure twice as high as this past winter. There will also be about $1 million less for substance abuse prevention and treatment services, affecting more than 340 people.
Since the cuts are just being implemented, their full impact has yet to be felt by much of the public, but that is expected to change in the year ahead.
Although the General Assembly has no authority in this matter, it does have to contend with the consequences. At a time when our budget is showing some solid, but not significant, signs of growth, and the list of pressing needs is long, it will be difficult to overcome these federal reductions when the state’s two-year budget is written early next year. Our chief hope is that, by then, there will be a much better solution out of Washington. If that doesn’t happen, a lot of states could be hurting.
If you have any thoughts on this matter, I would like to know. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th District in the Kentucky House of Representatives.