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State Officials Still In The Dark On Possible Sequester Cuts

A series of automatic federal budget cuts known as the sequester looms at the end of the week, and the White House has put out a list of how those cuts might affect Ohio. But the only thing that’s clear about the possible sequester is there’s a lot of confusion. If the sequester kicks in on March 1, the White House says some 26,000 Ohioans who are civilian employees of the Department of Defense would be furloughed. Half of those are at the state’s largest military installation, Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. Commander Col. Colonel Cassie Barlow says she’s not sure how operations would be affected.

It’s really hard to look at a reduction of any employees and not see mission impact. So certainly we expect some mission impact, and certainly the goal is to minimize and mitigate any mission impact that we have here at Wright-Patterson.

Outside the military, the biggest losses of federal funds in Ohio would be in K-12 public education. The White House estimates more than $25 million in lost funding for education, which it says puts some 350 teaching jobs at risk, along with a $22 million cut in funding for children with disabilities. But Department of Education spokesman John Charlton says there’s no panic.

We have not put a lot of energy or effort into analyzing what might happen just because it is such an unknown. We’re not, first of all, we’re sure if it’s going to happen or not. Secondly, this is really the first time that we’ve seen solid numbers come out, and I think they’re just projections anyhow but it’s the first time we’ve seen projections come out of the White House that kind of indicates where we might be.

And Charlton says since the affected funds are targeted to the school year that starts in August, there’s time to deal with the cuts if they happen. That’s similar to the approach at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The White House is reporting $1.7 million in cuts to job search assistance and training, and says up to 800 disadvantaged kids could be cut out of child care. ODFJS spokesman Ben Johnson says it’s unclear how those cuts might affect programs, if they happen.

We don’t know if there’s going to be a hole, we don’t know exactly when the hole will occur. And we don’t know if there will be any other parameters set around the funding restrictions.

But the Ohio Head Start Association is worried. The White House says 2,500 kids would be shut out of Head Start. But Barbara Haxton with the Ohio Head Start Association says because Ohio’s Head Start costs are lower, more kids could lose access with a cut of 23 million dollars. “If we take the average allocation per child across Ohio - $6,900 – that would results in the loss of 2804 preschoolers and almost 300 early Head Start children," Haxton says. The Federal Aviation Administration is saying overnight shifts could be eliminated at the control towers at Akron-Canton, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown airports, and the air traffic control facilities could be closed at the Cuyahoga County and Mansfield airports, and at Ohio State University’s airport and Bolton Field in Columbus. But statements about the impact on transportation in particular have riled up President Obama’s critics. Tom Zawistowski is with the Tea Party group Ohio Citizens PAC, and says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood should resign because he flat-out lied with scary claims of delays and closings at small airports. "All of your listeners have seen this before in the form of the school board that cuts, that immediately goes to cut busing and athletics when the levy doesn't pass, when busing and athletics are not the problem in the budget.

So this an old playbook that they’re playing, and we’re sick and tired of it. It’s disingenuous. It’s insulting to every taxpayer.

Gov. John Kasich, who often talks up his budget expertise as a former member of Congress, hasn’t addressed the sequester issue, perhaps because he’s been busy selling his state budget, which includes an expansion of Medicaid and transportation programs that would not be affected by the sequester. The state's Office of Budget and Management said in a statement that reads in part – “While sequestration may not be the most desirable means of addressing this problem, it’s our general sense that we will not see significant disruptions to state operations or federally funded programs…OBM is prepared to work with all state agencies to manage any other impacts the sequestration might create.â€?