As across-the-board federal government spending cuts begin to take effect, many agencies in Cobb County are trying to sort out the looming uncertainty that comes with them.
Cobb Chamber of Commerce CEO David Connell is worried about the impact the automatic federal spending cuts authorized by President Barack Obama and Congress will have on the county.
“I would say I am concerned,” Connell said. “I think our businesses have some concerns that it may affect jobs in Cobb County, and therefore we should all have some concerns. The extent of those concerns, however, will not be determined for another month or so, as I understand it.”
The cuts could hit harder in Cobb than other counties because Cobb has such a strong aerospace and defense industry in Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Connell said.
Lockheed Martin’s more than 6,800 employees in the Marietta area remain focused on vital national security projects, Lockheed spokesman Johnny Whitaker said.
“The automatic across-the-board cuts weaken virtually all government programs and operations, damage our national security and adversely affect our industry,” he said.
Yet until Lockheed receives specific guidance from its government customers, it cannot speculate on how significantly sequestration will impact its programs or facilities.
“We will of course work with our customers and adapt to any significant changes,” Whitaker said. “We continue to have a strong commitment to the Marietta region.”
Effects on defense
Mary Therese Tebbe, spokeswoman for the Georgia National Guard, which is headquartered at The Clay National Guard Center off Atlanta Road in Marietta, said certain staff categories in the guard, such as civilian technicians and duel status technicians, face a 20 percent pay cut because of the sequester. More than half of the 2,000 people who fit those categories are based at the Marietta headquarters, she said.
“The members of the Georgia National Guard, whether they’re civilians or uniform military personnel, all know that their job is to keep doing what they do, and they do it very proudly, but obviously there is some concern for those who are at risk of being furloughed and just the uncertainty of the future of our budget is very disheartening,” Tebbe said. “You’ve got a spouse and kids and a family that you need to take care of, so obviously there is that personal impact to everyone.”
A major training exercise called Global Guardian, which was scheduled to take place this month in Savannah, has been canceled, Tebbe said.
“We don’t just show up and fight in a warzone,” Tebbe said. “There’s training that’s involved in that, and one of their largest training events just got cancelled. The public needs to care what’s happening with their National Guard because the ability of the Georgia National Guard to be able to respond to a crisis is certainly at risk here, and our governor is going to have a very tough decision to make should an emergency come up when the funding has been cut so drastically.”
Education could take a hit
Marietta Board of Education Chairman Randy Weiner said his system is looking at a possible $500,000 million cut in federal funding from its Title I programs.
“It means that we will get less money across the board for our Title programs, which could be a reduction in our technology spending, reduction in transportation like when we have kids who need tutoring. We take them home after school late,” Weiner said. “I’m not sure if that’s where it will be hit, but it will be hit within that budget. It will just have to be budgeted with less money."
Cobb Board of Education Chairman Randy Scamihorn said nothing is certain yet for his system.
“At this time, we don’t know because it really depends on how much the federal government wants to penalize us,” Scamihorn said. “We don’t believe we’ll know if the sequestration will affect us or how much until the end of March when the state legislation is over with.”
Ron Day, director of financial aid for Kennesaw State University, expects cutbacks of up to $200,000 in KSU’s financial aid program that would normally have gone to needy students in the form of Work Study federal grants.
Fees on student loans are also expected to rise by $3 to $4, he said.
“That fee will now go up, which in essence will mean the actual monies the kid receives bottom-line will be reduced,” Day said.
Airport, park facing cuts
Karl Von Hagel, manager of the county’s McCollum Airport, said the control tower is also at risk.
“The FAA has proposed that sequestration will close some air traffic control towers, and we have heard numbers between 100 and 248 control towers,” Von Hagel said. “McCollum Airport is on the list of potential control tower closures."
Von Hagel said closures would not occur until April, and airports that are to be closed are to be notified 30 days in advance.
Nancy Walther, superintendent of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, said as a federal agency, she was charged with cutting her budget by 5 percent or $83,000. The cuts won’t impact park hours but will limit services offered because she has to cut some of her seasonal help, she said.
“What that means for the public is we will have less interpretative programs and education programs out there,” she said. “If you’ve been to the park during the summer, you’ve probably seen some of the artillery demonstration that we do. Well, that’s black powder, and it costs money. We will need staff to run those programs, so if we’re cutting our seasonal help, then our staff will end up manning the front desk at the visitor’s center and not have the flexibility to go out and conduct programs.”
Marietta City Manager Bill Bruton said the only areas he anticipates being cut by the sequester would be the Section 8 program or the Community Development Block Grant funding, although he has yet to hear word on either.
The $85 billion in cuts apply to the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Without a deal, they will continue cutting government spending by about $1 trillion more over a 10-year period.
Connell said the uncertainty comes from the fact that it’s still unknown what military spending Washington officials intend to target. He said if they target the F-35 program, whose center wing section is produced in Marietta, the impact would be much greater a hit for Marietta than if they targeted an aircraft carrier, for example.
State Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb) chairman of the Cobb Legislative Delegation, echoed Connell in saying the impact of sequestration on Cobb and Georgia has yet to be fully determined.
“The reductions leave the largest part of federal spending – entitlements – virtually untouched while deeply cutting into defense priorities,” Hill said. “This compromises our national security by undermining military readiness and capabilities, while doing nothing to make the defense department more efficient and effective. Sequestration is a poor substitute for real budgeting because even after the sequester, the federal government will spend $15 billion more than it did last year.”
Ed. note: A previous version of this story listed $500,000 million dollars in cuts for education. The actual amount is $500,000. We apologize for the error.
The first version also said that the fees on student loans at KSU would increase $30-$40 dollars. School officials say that number is actually $3-$4 per student, though a final amount has not been determined.