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How will the sequester affect Alaska?

Laurel Andrews

The automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration went into effect March 1, and are set to slash federal spending to the tune of $85 billion this year nationwide. Alaska’s representatives on Sunday expressed frustration at the final outcome, which will provide across-the-board cuts for domestic spending programs of around $29 billion, and $43 billion in defense cuts in 2013 alone, with the goal of cutting more than $1 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years.

But how exactly will the sequester affect Alaska?

Sen. Lisa Murkoswki’s office wrote that “sequestration is a 'meat ax' approach and that smarter, more targeted cuts would have made more sense.”

“We all know that sequestration is not a wise way to solve our country's fiscal problem,” Rep. Don Young wrote via email. "I have twice voted to replace the sequester with targeted spending cuts.”

Sen. Mark Begich wrote via email, “I'm disappointed Congress couldn't come together on a more balanced solution. While the sequester was not my first choice, something had to be done to get our spending under control. We are all in this together and everyone will feel the pain. Even in my Senate office, I've furloughed members of my own staff.”

The Federal Office of Management and Budget created a list estimating the effect of the sequester state-by-state, which was distributed by the White House. They estimate a loss of around $130 million dollars in federal funding to Alaska.

For Alaska, estimated impacts for 2013 include:

  • Cut of $78 million to Army base operation funding;
  • Loss of $1.5 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting 20 teacher and aide jobs at risk;
  • Loss of $1.8 million in environmental funding for clean air and clean water, and an additional possible loss of $2.1 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection;
  • Furloughs of 5,000 civilian Department of Defense employees, reducing gross pay by around $31.8 million total;
  • Loss of $96,000 in funding for vaccinations, resulting in around 1,400 fewer children receiving vaccinations;
  • Cut of $184,000 in funds that provide meals for seniors;
  • An economist at George Mason University estimates that Alaska will lose around 10,000 jobs.

KTVA reports that Alaska’s National Parks will see an estimated a loss of around $5 million in cuts, and that will mean a delay or elimination of seasonal hires who keep the parks operating during the summer. “Bringing on seasonals later could mean a delay in opening of facilities, or just fewer programs offered to visitors,” John Quinley, spokesman for the National Park Service told KTVA.

KTOO reports that cuts to the Department of Defense budget will affect Alaska Native for-profit corporations that are given advantages in bidding on federal contacts, and that Department of Interior tribal programs are projecting a loss of $130 million across the nation will impact human services, economic development and natural resources for American Natives.

However, some skepticism regarding the White House’s numbers has been brought to light by the Washington Post, in regards to numbers such as its vaccination statistics and meals for seniors.  Young said the White House had resorted to "obvious scare tactics” in some of its remarks. “Since sequestration went into effect," Young said, "even President Obama has toned down the 'sky is falling' rhetoric, choosing to instead force high profile cuts that will cause outrage in the American people such as cancellation of White House tours, and cuts to tuition assistance for members of the military.”

Still, the sequester will have an effect that "many have yet to really feel, including many Alaskans," Young wrote.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com.