Texas schools, skies in crosshairs of potential sequestration cuts


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

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Posted on February 25, 2013 at 7:57 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 25 at 8:01 PM

AUSTIN -- As passengers at Austin's airport prepare for departure, the airport could soon see the arrival of automatic federal spending cuts as part of the so-called budget "sequestration." The mix of mandatory spending reductions targets defense as well as social safety net programs, a design intended to pressure both parties toward compromise.
If Congress and President Barack Obama can't agree on a deal to reduce the national deficit by Friday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told media Friday the subsequent sequester would force the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to close "more than a hundred air traffic control towers at airports with ewer than 150,000 flight operations per year." 
That would include shutting down the air traffic control tower at Georgetown Municipal Airport in Central Texas and eliminating overnight air traffic control shifts at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Nationwide, LaHood said the reductions in staffing could lead to delays of up to 90 minutes at major airports.
According to a state-by-state sequestration impact report issued by the White House on Sunday, public schools in Texas would lose nearly $68 million in funding for primary and secondary education and put 930 teaching jobs in jeopardy. The sequester would also reduce financial aid by 4,720 low-income college students, reduce work-study programs by 1,450 students and close Head Start and Early Head Start early education programs for some 4,800 children.
"Just when the schools are trying to get back on their feet, just when the legislature is starting to signal that we're going to try to restore some of the damage we did in the last two years, if now the federal government hits them with a second wave of cuts, it's just impossible for the schools to keep up with the demands we place on them," state Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) told KVUE Monday.
"These are going to be impactful on Texans," said Strama. "It's going affect our economy. All the things we like to brag about how great we're doing, we're going to realize that we do depend on our relationship with the federal government for some of those things."
The sequester would also cut $260 million in federal funds for military bases and operations in Texas, along with $2.3 million for job search assistance and training programs. In addition, $10.3 million in public health funds would be cut, including money for substance abuse programs and HIV testing.
"The fact is FAA and other agencies may need to make some cuts, but they're not told exactly where they need to make them," said Peggy Venable with Americans for Prosperity of Texas. "What they want to do is make the public feel it. It doesn't mean that's where they have to make those cuts."
Venable argues the cuts nationwide add up to a relatively small percent of the federal budget, and blames Washington for making them more painful than they should be. 
"The bottom line, we're saying, 'Bring it on,'" said Venable. "It's about time we cut spending. Shame on Congress and the president for not sitting down and cutting spending in a more targeted manner." 
The eyes of Texas turn this week to what the winds of Washington could blow our way.