Wednesday, February 27, 2013

EDITORIAL >> We’ll feel Sequester

Sequestration may not affect everyone in Arkansas, but if Congress goes ahead with mandatory spending cuts amounting to $37 million in the state, many of us will start feeling the pain.

We’ll see the effects, especially at Little Rock Air Force Base and at other military installations around the state as the Pentagon’s budget is reduced $42.7 billion. Clinton National Airport will have fewer TSA security screeners this weekend.

As many as 4,000 civilians at Little Rock Air Force Base and at other military installations will have to forgo a day of pay every couple of weeks. That will save the government $19.2 million this year.

In addition, the air base will also lose $2 million in funding. Repairs on hangars are on hold and flying hours have been reduced.

Defense spending here will drop 2.4 percent, which could have been much worse. Arkansas will see a 6.2 percent reduction in federal grants, putting the state in the middle range of cuts across the country. Nonmilitary procurement, salaries and wages will fall 3.4 percent.

The military will take almost half the cuts, but education isn’t far behind with $20 million less for school districts. That figure includes a $5.9 million cut for elementary and secondary schools, including 80 teachers and aides. Education for children with disabilities would lose $5.6 million, and about the same number of teachers and aides for those programs.

Arkansas will lose $1.6 million in environmental funding for air and water quality and pollution control.

Cuts will also hit public health, including vaccines for children ($1.1 million), nutrition assistance for seniors ($310,000), law enforcement ($159,000 for justice assistance grants), job search assistance ($273,000) and several other programs.

Arkansas is one of the poor states that send less money to Washington than we get back. So every dollar we lose hits us hard.

Across the nation, security checkers will be furloughed and illegal immigrants freed for lack of money. Call it scare tactics by the Obama administration, but the cuts must come from somewhere if there’s no budget deal this week.

Law enforcement will get lower funding. Crime will go up. As we wrote here after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, reviving Bill Clinton’s COPS program would reduce crime in our communities. The program wasn’t cheap — more than $1 billion a year, but it helped pay for more police officers and equipment in just about every town around here. They took a bite out of crime.

A dysfunctional Congress is unlikely to restore funds to the COPs program anytime soon, but the news is not all bleak: Gov. Mike Beebe said Tuesday he has negotiated a deal with the Obama adminsitration — the first in the nation — to include the working poor in an insurance exchange that will provide private health insurance through Medicaid.

This should satisfy opponents of Medicaid expansion in the state Legislature, who worry about funding the program, which will be 100 percent supported by the federal government for three years. States will have to fund 10 percent after that, but they can then opt out if they can’t afford it. At least nine Republican govenors have said they favor the expansion.

There’s no reason for Republicans in the Legislature to keep opposing a program that will give the state $1 billion over the next decade.