How Will Sequestration Cuts Affect Palmer/Forks?
The possible March 1 government spending cuts triggered by sequestration could affect residents of Forks and Palmer townships.
In Forks Township, the Board of Supervisors spent a good hour at last week's meeting lamenting, bickering, debating and grandstanding over a financial future that they say looks grim.
Faced with tough choices over approving spending for minor township-related programs and with looming tax hikes expected, some officials wonder how much automatic "sequestration" spending cuts trickling down from Washington, D.C., Friday will pinch local government even further.
"I think our representatives in Washington need to realize they represent all of us, not just a single issue or political party. As a Navy veteran, it is very hard to accept the fact our representatives and senator will not a find a way to pass a rational budget," Forks Supervisor David Billings said.
"Each year local governments are required by state law to make tough choices so we can pass a balanced budget. We do not have the right to ignore our civic responsibilities," Billings added.
"I have to think this will negatively impact us," said school board member Frank Pintabone. "We're $4.2 million in the hole, anything else will further that deficit."
Last year, Pintabone sponsored a resolution adopted by the board which called on Congress and the Obama administration to reach a deal to keep the cuts from happening.
School districts around the country -- including Easton -- would lose funding for programs for poor and disabled children.
Pintabone said board members should get a more detailed look at what cuts the district faces at Tuesday's meeting. But he doubts the board will get good news.
"Any time there's cuts, we never really gain anything," he said, adding he hopes Congress "gets its act together...on both sides."
Billings said he knows that Rep. Charlie Dent has joined the No Labels Problem Solving team "to find solutions to some very tough issues."
"Now it is time for Rep. Cartwright to join Rep. Dent in finding real solutions to some very tough problems," he said.
U.S. Sen. Matt Cartwright (D-17th District) said Monday he is calling on the House Republican leadership "to take action this week on a balanced plan to avert these damaging and mindless spending cuts. “
"To date, Senate and House Democrats have offered fair, balanced plans to avert these damaging cuts. These proposals are built on responsible spending cuts, increased revenues, and growth with jobs. Yet Republicans have refused to work toward compromise on a plan to reduce the deficit because they refuse to ask the wealthy to pay a little more by closing tax loopholes," said Cartwright, who represents Forks and Palmer townships.
President Obama has asked Congress to pass a short-term package to postpone the March 1 sequestration deadline. Republicans are pushing back, threatening to allow sequestration if tax reforms aren’t included in a deal.
Barb Walters, president of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party, said taxpayers are getting tired of financial crisis in Washington.
"Even when it was settled and Congress gave the President his tax cuts, now he's changing the rules of the game. We're going down the same road all the time. But we're not going to go back to sleep again."
Walters said the issue hasn't been discussed before the membership of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party, which meets monthly in Palmer Township.
"We really haven't talked about it so I don't know the consensus of the board," she said. "But this issue has been discussed for so long that it's getting boring. First, it was the Fiscal Cliff. Now they're bringing the same stuff up all the time without any decisions. Even when we think things are settled, they pop up again. Well, we're tired of the same old song and dance."
Sequestration cuts won't affect Social Security, Medicaid, Pell grants, veterans' benefits and Defense Department spending on wars.
But it may do some damage locally.
Passengers at Lehigh Valley International Airport may have to wait in longer lines for security checks.
And desperate homeowners facing foreclosure might not be able to get help from the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.
Statewide, cuts would eliminate job search assistance for about 37,000 people and furlough 26,000 Department of Defense civilian contractors, Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said Monday. Pennsylvania would also lose $73 million for medical research funding and innovation.
Here are other possible local impacts:
- Head Start in the Lehigh Valley could see a cut of up to 8 percent. That could involve as many as 100 children losing places in Head Start as well as a decrease in personnel – 10 teachers and assistant teachers and home visitors, for example, according to Community Services for Children, based in Allentown.
- Lehigh Valley International Airport could lose its air traffic control midnight shift as a result of cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), according to LVIA Executive Director Charles R. Everett, Jr. Passengers could experience delays getting through security if federal Transportation Security Administration workers are furloug
- Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley would lose about $125,000 of the $2.5 million the agency receives from federal sources. This cut would result in about 20 fewer homes being weatherized and would cripple the agency's efforts to save families from losing their homes to foreclosure, said Executive Director Alan Jennings.
"The crisis Congress imposed on itself is a reflection of its own inability to find a consensus on how to solve a problem it created. It would be amazing to see Congress, in all its wisdom, acknowledge that its own solution – sequestration – will impose new, untold crises on people in need and their opportunity-starved neighborhoods throughout the nation. This is the real story. The impact on the institutions that serve them is secondary."
Republicans are floating a plan to force the same amount of cuts but let the Obama administration decide where to make the cuts. Two Lehigh Valley lawmakers -- U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-15th District) and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey -- told the Morning Call they might be OK with that option.
"There's plenty of time to work out an agreement," said Casey, who is urging both sides to agree on a deal before March 1.
The problem with sequestration cuts, Casey said, is that they are not strategic or targeted based on priorities; they're indiscriminate.