WASHINGTON -- Federal spending cuts planned for March 1 could hit Washington state hard, costing 41,700 jobs and removing $3.4 billion from its economy, according to state estimates.
And that possibility has members of the state’s congressional delegation fretting big-time on Capitol Hill.
Unless Congress reverses them, big cuts are in store for the military, schools, law enforcement, health care, food and workplace safety programs, nutritional assistance for the elderly, programs that help the homeless and small businesses and Indian tribes, and many more.
Freshman Democratic Rep. Denny Heck of Olympia, Wash., said that up to 10,000 civilian employees at Joint Base Lewis-McChord could be forced to take 22 furlough days before Oct. 1.
And with his district heavily dependent on federal money, he fears the unemployment rate could rise by 1 to 2 percentage points.
“This is real – this could tip South Puget Sound into a recession,” Heck said in an interview, adding that Congress’ “self-imposed problems are about to hit us like a ton of bricks.”
Nearly seven weeks into their first term, Heck and another newcomer, Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor, Wash., are getting a good taste of how Congress jumps from crisis to crisis in trying to manage its money woes.
And both are upset that Congress is on recess for all of this week instead of staying put to pass a plan to avoid the spending cuts that now are only nine days away.
“There seems to be a desire to point fingers and play games rather than actually solve this, and that has real implications. … I heard someone say, `This is no longer the fiscal cliff, we’ve developed the fiscal mountain range,’” Kilmer said in an interview.
Heck said the behavior of Congress “borders on dereliction of duty.”
“This is as though Congress doused itself in gasoline and then lit a match,” he said. “There’s no excuse for this. We ought to be here sitting down trying to solve the problem instead of taking off. And the reason why I feel so strongly about it is unfortunately I have a sense of what it’s going to do to my community and my neighbors – and it’s not going to be pretty.”
The sense of urgency among some members of Congress is not shared by those in charge in Washington, D.C. House and Senate leaders decided there was no need to call off the long-planned Presidents Day break, and President Barack Obama headed to Florida last weekend to golf with Tiger Woods.
If the cuts go through, one of the biggest casualties could be Washington state government, with federal spending accounting for anywhere from 20 to 25 percent of the state’s budget in the past dozen years, according to the state’s Office of Financial Management.
State lawmakers were briefed on the pending cuts last week. Washington could receive $118 million less in federal grants for the remainder of the fiscal year, according to state estimates.
State officials say it’s impossible to estimate the exact economic impact until the cuts are implemented. But they said the cuts could range from 5 to 12 percent for most programs. That could mean millions less for special education and high-need schools, community social services, vocational rehabilitation, alcohol and substance abuse, foster care, early-learning programs, transportation, weatherization, and wastewater and drinking water programs, among others.