Nevada stands to lose nearly 8,000 jobs and tens of millions in wages and federal aid if Congress fails to stop deep “sequestration” spending cuts from taking effect March 1.
Unless lawmakers act, $85 billion in across-the-board cuts to defense and domestic programs will begin nationwide next month, with another $1.1 trillion coming over the next decade.
The budget cuts could mean that the midnight shift for air traffic controllers would be eliminated at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport beginning April 1 because of furloughs for the controllers and other federal workers, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday.
Planes cannot land at the airport if no controllers are on duty. The Reno tower was one of 60 airport towers listed by the FAA on Friday as among those that could lose its overnight shift of controllers.
Detailed reports released just this week by the Air Force and Army show that their civilian employees in Nevada would lose a combined total of nearly $12 million in wages as the result of unpaid furloughs that will be imposed on them to reduce defense spending.
“We’re keeping an eye on it,” airport spokesman Brian Kulpin said. “For us, it’s not only safety and security but it’s an economic issue. Our latest (commercial) flight lands at about 11:30 p.m.-11:40 p.m., and if we have delays, say bad weather on the East Coast, it’s common that they’d come in after midnight. It happens on a fairly regular basis, especially in winter.”
He said there are also late-night flights.
“We have National Guard flights, cargo flights, medical, general aviation, corporate aviation flights,” he said.
According to estimates by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, Nevada could lose nearly 3,200 jobs among civilian defense workers, employees of private companies that supply the Pentagon, and local businesses whose customers have less money to spend.
Nevada could lose even more jobs — an estimated 4,600 according to the George Mason study — from federal cuts to non-defense programs such as education, child care and health care.
The cuts were supposed to hit at the beginning of January, but Congress postponed them for two months as part of the last-minute deal it reached to avert the “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending reductions.
The idea was for lawmakers to come up with alternative, targeted cuts that would be less harsh than the ones scheduled to start on March 1.
Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, who represents the Reno area, said he believes the cuts will take effect on March 1.
He said he thinks Congress will then scramble to take action by the end of March to replace those cuts with more palatable reductions and pass a budget extension to keep the federal government funded through the end of the year.
“We’ll have a big ‘Drama Olympics’ at the end of March to see where we’re at,” the congressman said.
Amodei, who is been in office less than a year and a half, said he is frustrated that Congress keeps lurching from crisis to crisis instead of passing an annual federal budget.
“It’s almost as if there is a preference for drama and emergency at the edge of the abyss every few months as a way of doing business around here,” the congressman said. “It’s an awful way to run an organization.”
Most of the lost wages at Nevada’s military bases would come from Air Force civilians working in the state. Nearly 1,500 workers would lose about $11.4 million because of the furloughs. In addition, Nellis Air Force Base and Creech Air Force Base would lose more than $2 million in federal spending on modernization and restoration projects that will be postponed or canceled.
Army officials said 79 of their civilian employees in Nevada wound be furloughed, costing them $473,000 in pay. The Army National Guard in Nevada faces spending reductions of nearly $5.5 million while the Army Reserve faces more than $1.3 million in cuts. The Hawthorne Army Depot workforce would be cut by 20 percent.
The Pentagon estimates that it will need to furlough civilian employees for about 22 days this year to achieve the mandatory spending cuts. Workers would most likely be furloughed for about one day a week for 22 weeks beginning in late April. Employees would be given 30 days notice before any furloughs. President Barack Obama has exempted military personnel from furloughs.
Amodei said defense contractors in Nevada are already being hurt by the uncertainty over federal spending.
“Nevada is already having a rough time,” he said. “Contractors on the range at Nellis have told me that the Air Force has got them on a month-to-month authorization because of the federal budget situation.”
And it’s not just defense-related jobs that are at risk.
Federal cuts to domestic programs in Nevada would total more than $34 million and threaten the jobs of teachers, community health workers and, ironically, people who train unemployed workers for new jobs, according to a report by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Among the estimated reductions are nearly $10 million in cuts in federal Title I grants to local schools that serve a high number of low-income students. Result: about 130 education jobs lost and 15,230 fewer students served. Also, nearly $6 million in cuts to special education grants that help local schools teach children with physical and learning problems would result in more than 70 jobs no longer supported by federal aid.