Sequester cuts would land heavy on Texas


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on February 28, 2013 at 7:23 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 28 at 7:46 PM

AUSTIN -- The cuts in Texas would be stark. 

The White House estimates the state would lose $67.8 million in federal funds for education and see reductions in staff and furloughs for thousands of federal employees. According to the Army, hundreds of millions of dollars cut from defense spending in Texas could affect more than 34,000 jobs and cost the state $2.4 billion in economic loss. 
All could be triggered if Congress and President Obama fail to agree on a deal to reduce the deficit by Friday night. Under the law, the president must sign the sequester ordering $85 billion in spending reductions by 11:59 p.m. Friday. The president is scheduled to meet with Congressional leaders Friday to discuss a solution. 
Among the escalating reports of the sequester's impact on federal agencies, an announcement this week that U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had begun releasing undocumented immigrants from federal custody drew outrage from Republicans. 
"This poses a real public safety issue to the American people," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) told KVUE Thursday. The House Homeland Security Committee chairman issued a sharp rebuke to department officials this week, issuing a letter to ICE Director John Morton demanding detailed information concerning the releases. 
"I really think it was part of an orchestrated effort as they've been doing all week long to say the sequester's going to result in all this scare tactic stuff," said McCaul.
On Wednesday, President Obama's spokesperson Jay Carney said the releases were made without consulting with the White House, and described those released as "low-risk, non-criminal detainees."
State Rep. Naomi Gonzalez (D-El Paso) argues while the sequester cuts would be detrimental to border security and regional economies, the picture painted by Republicans of the Texas-Mexico border as a dangerous region marred by uncontrolled violence is wildly inaccurate.
"This is an issue that is being used to detract from what the real issue is, and that is members of Congress need to do their job," said Gonzalez. "They need to get to work, and they need to come up with solutions that are going to serve the people of the United States." 
Economists largely agree the budget sequester will hurt the nation's economy, but there are differing forecasts as to the degree by which it may do so. Most cuts, such as reductions in staff and funding, will take from weeks to months to be fully realized. In the meantime, Congress could still reach a deal to address those cuts retroactively. 
"I don't think that you're going to feel anything tomorrow," said Texas House Appropriations Committee Chair state Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie).
While education, public health and workforce programs would undoubtedly suffer, Pitts suggests most effects wouldn't be felt until federal funds dry up sometime this summer. Nonetheless, lawmakers are planning contingencies. 
"Something we have thought about is putting more money in education, at least to cut those sequester amounts," said Pitts, who expressed surprise that federal lawmakers have thus far been unable to prevent a fiscal scenario neither party wants. "I thought that the federal government would be able to work out an agreement, kind of like we do in the legislature. We work it out, and hopefully they can."
On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) made his frustration clear. 
"Come on, in a three point however many trillion dollar budget, you can't find 85 billion that's not going to shut down border security, or put our military men and women in jeopardy or lose a thousand teachers from the classroom?" Perry said. "Quit playing politics, Mr. President, and get to work."
While there is still time for a deal to avert the sequester, state lawmakers will be anxiously watching their counterparts in the nation's capital. What's clear is that Texas, like the rest of the nation, has much to lose.