By Thomas Burr
Once again, the federal government is approaching a fiscal disaster, and this time it could cost Utah millions in revenue, force thousands to take furloughs and possibly reverse or slow any economic recovery the state has seen in recent months.
The pending crisis is reminiscent of the fiscal cliff fiasco America faced only three months ago but this time it could stick, and it could hurt.
“It’s obviously cause for serious concern,” says Natalie Gochnour, chief economist of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. “We are a very federally dependent state and that stems from our long established defense industry in our state, [that] we’re a public-lands state and we have the IRS facility in Ogden and other centers of federal workers.”
Come Friday, the federal government will be forced to pare down spending until Congress acts otherwise. The automatic, across-the-board cuts include: $42.7 billion for defense, $28.7 billion in domestic programs, $9.9 billion in Medicare cuts and $4 billion in other mandatory cuts, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Close to home, Utah is looking at potentially millions in cuts, especially at Hill Air Force Base where civilian workers would be forced to take furloughs one day a week for 22 weeks. And that’s in addition to other potential cuts to contracting and purchasing.
The IRS employs 4,100 workers in Utah, many at its Ogden office, and most could face potential furloughs as well. An IRS spokesman declined to comment on the impact.
The Federal Aviation Administration says it may have to close the air traffic control facilities at the Ogden-Hinckley and Provo Municipal airports.
Lines at the Salt Lake International Airport could get stretch out longer as the Transportation Security Administration reduces staffing because of the cuts. Reductions at NASA could hit Utah’s gross state output by $100,000 or more.
Visitors to Utah’s five national parks, as well as monuments, could see fewer rangers, shuttered campsites and hiking areas as well as shorter hours for visitor centers. The Interior Department estimates some 300 onshore oil and gas leases wouldn’t be issued in the West, including Utah. Counties with large public land areas — many in Utah — could see a $1.9 million slash in the federal payment-in-lieu-of-taxes check.