MADISON — Even as Gov. Scott Walker called on President Barack Obama to come up with alternative spending cuts to those scheduled to take effect Friday, others in Wisconsin prepared to scale back budgets, lay off workers and take other steps to deal with a loss of millions of dollars in funding.
The $85 billion in automatic cuts nationwide, known as a sequester, are the result of Congress’ failure to trim the deficit by $1.2 trillion over a decade. About half the cuts affect military spending, which will reduce their impact in Wisconsin since it doesn’t have major defense industry infrastructure.
But Wisconsin does have Fort McCoy, a 60,000-acre military training base that lies between Sparta and Tomah in western Wisconsin.
While the cuts won’t affect military personnel, most of the fort’s 1,500 civilian employees will have to take one furlough day a week beginning in the last week of April through September, said the fort’s spokeswoman Linda Fournier.
The fort may also have to reduce hours on small arms training ranges, which are operated by civilian employees, she said. That could result in longer wait times and fewer soldiers trained. The fort’s day care center may have to slash hours if the furloughs prevent the center from meeting provider-to-children ratios, forcing employees to find other child care. It also may take longer to get into the base if gate guards’ hours are cut.
Fournier said the entire region around Fort McCoy will feel the effects of the cuts as people rearrange their budgets in anticipation of what may happen.
“People are changing plans,” she said. “These aren’t all the bureaucrats in Washington making six figures. These are everyday workers. They have expenses, car payments and house payments.”
Fournier said everyone who works there is hoping for a solution.
“What are our options?” she said. “There are no options.”
The National Council of State Legislators said $5.8 billion in federal money for state-administered programs is in jeopardy. Just how much money is at stake for Wisconsin isn’t clear. Walker’s administration hasn’t prepared an estimate. The White House released a list of potential cuts to the state, but not a grand total.
The potential losses to Wisconsin identified including $10.1 million in funding for 120 teachers, aides and staff who help children with disabilities; $8.5 million for primary and secondary education; and $3.9 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality.
The Federal Aviation Administration also said that air traffic control towers at eight Wisconsin airports may be forced to close.
The air control tower at Chippewa Valley Regional Airport in Eau Claire is run by a contractor and it’s not clear whether that will be allowed to continue if the cuts go into effect, said the airport’s manager, Charity Speich.
If the air control tower had to shut down, Speich said that would hurt the airport because it would then have to share control towels with other airports which makes management inefficient.
Walker on Monday said on Fox News that the White House projections about effects of the cuts in Wisconsin amounted to “scare tactics.” He urged fellow Republicans in Congress to “call the bluff” of Obama and allow the spending cuts to take effect.
Walker, during a visit to Washington over the weekend as part of the National Governors Association meeting, called on Obama to come up with alternatives that addresses what he says is waste, fraud and abuse in federal government spending.
“The president and his allies somehow believe that the only way to continue economic growth is to continue to pour more money into federal government spending,” Walker said.
Walker is underplaying the potential effect of the cuts, said Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a Milwaukee-based liberal advocacy group.
“Federal spending is the major part of the state’s economic opportunities and security,” Kraig said.
Kraig relies on a study done by George Mason University as to the potential effect of the cuts on Wisconsin. Citing that study, he said Wisconsin will lose 36,000 jobs.
State Department of Public Instruction services director John Johnson said specifics of how cuts to educational programs will be managed are not yet determined, as the department is awaiting further guidance from the federal government.
He cited a report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities that said about 19 programs in Wisconsin face $12 million in cuts, affecting about 13,600 students. The study also estimated special education grants to the state to be but by $11 million, affecting 5,500 students.