LI officials: Sequestration effects will build if cuts remain

New Yorkers who work for the National Guard

New Yorkers who work for the National Guard — including 220 technicians at the 106th Air National Guard base at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton — no longer face a federally mandated six day furlough between now and Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. (Credit: Gordon M. Grant)

Automatic federal budget cuts set to take effect Friday could force the closure of an East End air traffic control tower, curtail hours at the Sagamore Hill historic site and reduce aid for superstorm Sandy victims, officials said.

While most Long Islanders won't notice immediate consequences from the $85 billion reduction in spending known as sequestration, local officials say the impact will build if the cuts aren't restored.

Democrats led by President Barack Obama have been making that point for weeks. But many Republicans say the situation isn't as dire as Democrats warn.

"He's trying to make it as bad as he can to get people's attention," Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said of Obama. "It's likely in the first few days the public is not going to notice it."

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) agreed with King's point, but disputed the notion that the consequences of the cuts are overblown.

"We're still going to be getting planes on runways and people through [security] lines on Monday, and food inspectors will still be on the job," said Bishop. "So people are initially going to be saying, 'See, no big deal.' But once this gets fully phased in, I think an awful lot of people will recognize just what the federal government does that we take for granted."

 

AVIATION/AIRPORTS

Officials said planned furloughs of federal workers for one or two days every two weeks beginning April 1 could have a significant impact on the aviation industry here and across the nation.

Air traffic control operations at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach would go dark when the furloughs kick in, said Anthony Ceglio, airport manager.

The airport is one of six in New York that will have to close down control towers due to furloughs of controllers, Federal Aviation Administration officials said. That means "pilots will be responsible for safe separation between aircraft landing and taking off," Ceglio said.

Currently, the control tower is only without controllers during less-busy overnight hours. The 106th Rescue Wing of the Air National Guard, which uses the airport, has yet to determine how the cuts will affect its operations, Ceglio said.

At Kennedy Airport, the cuts could cause flight delays of more than 90 minutes, FAA officials said. The agency would have to cut $627 million from its fiscal year 2013 budget, causing 47,000 employees, including air traffic controllers, to be furloughed beginning next month.

Congressional Republicans said the FAA could find ways to move funds within its budget and trim spending to avoid having to close more than 200 towers and reduce air-traffic service, according to a Bloomberg News story.

Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Wednesday that he was "frustrated" at the 90-minute flight delay estimate. Schuster said the FAA is "going to have to make some tough decisions" about how to use its personnel to minimize the impact of the cuts.

Wait times on Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint lines also could increase by an hour, according to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Overtime cuts and a hiring freeze would reduce the number of TSA screening agents. She also said international passengers at Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports could see wait times to clear customs jump, on average, by two to four hours.

 

SANDY AID/ZADROGA HEALTH CARE ACT

A total of $3 billion will be chopped from the $51 billion Sandy Relief Act for recovery from the October superstorm, and $27 million will be sliced from the 9/11 Zadroga health act under the automatic spending cuts that kick in Friday, the White House said.

The cuts to both programs likely will be phased in with systematic reductions over time, White House officials said last week.

The Sandy aid funding will be cut by about 9 percent per spending item, said White House adviser Jason Furman. About $1 billion will come from the $11 billion approved for FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund, but no one getting individual assistance is expected to be affected any time soon, an administration official said.

Officials also did not say precisely when cuts would begin for the $4 billion 9/11 Zadroga Health and Compensation Act that funds health monitoring and financial aid for sick Ground Zero workers. Under the sequester, $17 million will be cut from the Victims Compensation Fund and $10 million from the health fund through the end of September.

 

NATIONAL PARKS

An across-the-board 5 percent cut to the National Park Service budget would mean a $76,000 annual loss to the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Cove Neck, while Fire Island National Seashore would lose $240,000, officials said.

At Sagamore, president Theodore Roosevelt's former home, that could reduce the number of special events, such as Memorial Day celebrations, said site superintendent Thomas Ross. Summer visiting days could also be cut from seven to five per week, since administrators would have to furlough full-time rangers and reduce the number of seasonal hires.

"Obviously, the public would notice if our museum and visitor's center were closed during the summer," Ross said.

Spokeswoman Paula Valentine said Fire Island National Seashore hasn't determined how to deal with cuts. Possible solutions include leaving vacancies unfilled and reducing the number of public tours.

"There would be some belt-tightening, for sure," Valentine said. "But we know we have to live within our means."

 

EDUCATION

The White House says New York State would lose $42.7 million in education funding, endangering 590 teacher and teacher aide jobs. Head Start programs would be eliminated for about 4,300 low-income children statewide.

Officials at many Long Island school districts say they do not know precisely how much federal funding they will lose. But administrators say any federal cuts will represent another hit to budgets that are already strained by the state's 2 percent cap on annual property tax levy increases.

Roosevelt school district Superintendent Robert Wayne Harris said he's "already laid off staff and . . . abolished positions due to reductions in federal and state funding and aid." Further cuts, he added, "would mean more staff layoffs," and fewer programs for the neediest students.

Connetquot schools superintendent Alan Groveman acknowledged he's not as reliant on federal aid as poorer districts, but said the district still could lose about $100,000 due to the automatic cuts. "That's anywhere from two to five more positions," that could be cut, he said, noting that the proposed 2013-14 budget already recommends eliminating 8.5 teaching jobs and 11 other staff positions because of the state tax cap and lack of relief from state and federal mandates.

 

RESEARCH

Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, which was threatened with nearly 1,000 layoffs during a 2011 federal budget battle, is again bracing for cuts beginning this spring. "I think it's serious and it's significant if it comes to pass," Doon Gibbs, the lab's interim director, said of sequestration.

Gibbs said it was difficult to speculate on the exact impact, as the U.S. Department of Energy will determine how to spread reductions to its budget. But he said layoffs at Brookhaven "are possible," and that some high-profile research projects would be delayed or put at risk.

The lab's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider could scale back operations, he said. The 2.4-mile collider, which smashes atoms to recreate what the universe may have looked like upon creation, supports roughly 800 jobs, officials have said.While not all of those jobs would be eliminated, Bishop said that if the lab took a 5 percent cut, it could have to lay off more than 200 of its roughly 3,000 employees.

"It's not only about what they do for the advancement of knowledge," Bishop said, noting that the lab is one of Suffolk County"s largest employers. "This is also about the impact on our economy."

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