Public should brace for spending cuts, government warns

Legislators on both sides of the aisle expect that automatic federal spending cuts and tax increases worth $1 trillion over 10 years, contemplated in the so-called “sequester,” will take place March 1.

Among the cuts federal officials anticipate are $134 million from wildland firefighting efforts, as well as cuts in the amount of money provided to 36 states from leases of federal minerals, according to reports by Cabinet secretaries to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

There also would be delay in coal leasing and a reduction in onshore oil and gas leases of about 300 permits, according to a letter signed by outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

“The public should be prepared for reduced hours and services” at venues administered by the National Park Service, Salazar said in his letter.

Spokesmen for U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo, said they expected the sequester would go forward, with Tipton’s spokesman calling the chances 70-30 that sequestration will take place.

“Frankly at this point it looks like it’s likely,” Udall spokesman Mike Saccone said, adding Udall remains hopeful that a deal can be reached before next month.

Udall, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been involved in talks with the Pentagon and his colleagues about military programs, especially those in Colorado.

Tipton’s office was less optimistic, with spokesman Josh Green pointing to previous budget approvals that cleared the House but received no votes in the Senate.

Tipton “would like to have seen either of the House-passed solutions go into effect,” Green said.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., echoed President Barack Obama in a statement in which he said of the sequester that “Lurching from one crisis to the next is not the way” to get the nation’s financial house in order.

“Yet that’s exactly what happened with the fiscal cliff negotiations. We only managed to delay sequestration by a few months, and failed to put in place a long-term debt reduction plan.

“It’s why I call this place the ‘Land of Flickering Lights’ — we can barely keep the lights on from month to month.”

In addition to the wildfire spending cuts, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Forest Service would save $78 million by reducing services for a variety of “high-demand activities,” such as recreation, forest and watershed restoration, grazing, mining and oil and gas operations.

“This would largely occur during the peak-use seasons in spring and summer,” Vilsack wrote, and would result in the closure of 670 of 19,000 public recreation sites.

“Closing this many recreation sites would reduce an estimated 1.6 million recreation visits across the country, thereby harming the economies of rural communities that depend on recreationists’ activity and eliminating convenient vacation opportunities for rural residents,” Vilsack wrote.

The sequester also would cost 35 sworn Forest Service law-enforcement officers their jobs, leaving 707, Vilsack wrote.

Sequestration, mandated in 2011,  also would harm a program under which counties with vast swaths of federal land, such as those of western Colorado, receive money from the federal government in lieu of taxes, Salazar wrote.

State and local governments would lose $200 million in those payments, as well as their shares of mineral leasing on public lands.

The Energy Department, which is conducting the cleanup of Cold War-era uranium mill tailings in Moab, Utah, would have no ability to manage reductions, Energy Secretary Steven Chu wrote.

“Being able to focus and prioritize funds and effort in a reduced-funding environment is critical to maintaining the human and physical capital needed to accomplish our mission,” Chu wrote. “The way sequestration must be implemented withholds this essential discretion from my staff and me.”


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