By Ben Hogwood
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan didn't mince her words Tuesday when describing the impact of massive federal spending cuts scheduled to take effect Friday.
"I believe it will devastate our military and certainly threaten the state's fragile recovery at this point," said. Sen. Hagan, D-N.C., during a press conference call with reporters.
The senator said she was "troubled" by the inevitability of sequestration - the name given to the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts due to go into effect over the next 10 years, beginning Friday. According to Sen. Hagan, the budget cuts will eliminate $85 billion this fiscal year, which ends in October.
While the cuts will be felt across the board, from education to National Parks Services, Sen. Hagan stressed the impact to the military, saying it was "not the way to get our fiscal house in order."
While the jobs of military personnel are protected from the cuts, that protection doesn't extend to civilian employees, including those at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.
Statewide, 22,000 civilians could be furloughed, equaling $120 million in pay cuts just over the fiscal year. The Navy has proposed canceling $81 million in contracts at Cherry Point and contractors with the Department of Defense have been told their contracts will not be extended, she said.
The Naval Air Systems Command released a statement Tuesday saying it had notified a number of contractors of the potential to cancel, defer or scale down aircraft and engine depot maintenance at three Fleet Readiness Centers. One of those is Cherry Point. The others are Jacksonville, Fla., and San Diego, Calif.
Companies were told aviation maintenance workload would be adjusted in response to budgetary decisions and fleet priorities. Decisions are expected to be made no later than March 4.
The Navy is absorbing significant cuts to operations and maintenance in order to preserve overseas and forward-deployed readinesss to the maximum extent possible, according to the statement.
The Navy has made efforts to slow operations and maintenance spending, including a civilian hiring freeze, cancellation of non-mission-essential travel and training. Still, it hasn't been enough.
"Unfortunately, these steps are not enough to meet budget cuts that would result from a year-long CR (continuing resolution) and sequestration," the statement says.
If sequestration is invoked, FRC East at Cherry Point will see 118 fewer aircraft, engines or components of each inducted, resulting in a reduction of 221,000 associated work hours.
Engine readiness impacts are expected to be seen starting in May, with aircraft readiness impacts following close behind in July, according to FRC officials.
The statement said: "Impacts will increase exponentially each month the production process is halted or significantly reduced."
Sen. Hagan said the results of such cuts would damage middle class families, and would also trickle down to other businesses.
"If you cut $120 million out of their pay, we're looking at small businesses being hurt ... who are really just now getting back on their feet," Sen. Hagan said.
Training for non-deploying units would also be significantly curtailed, she said, damaging the ability of service members that have "honed their skills from a decade at war."
Service members could also face reduced access to medical care, she said.
The state will also be looking at $25 million in cuts to education funding, with hundreds of teachers possibly losing their jobs, while 1,500 children could lose access to Head Start, a pre-school program for low-income families.
While the senator said deficit reduction was a top priority, she wanted to see it done in a balanced approach. She blamed partisanship in Washington, D.C, for the failure to reach a compromise. "The middle class should not keep paying the price when Washington can't work together," she said.
Sen. Hagan still held hope that an agreement could be reached and was reviewing each plan presented and continuing talks with colleagues from both sides of the aisle, she said. While she was troubled by the "sense of inevitability" that has materialized around discussions, she said Congress in recent years has been motivated by a deadline.
"When a deadline hits, we do tend to take action," she said. "I'm hoping a deal can be cut at the 11th hour."
And if action isn't taken by Friday, she said she hoped Congress would continue to work on the issue until it is resolved.
While the senator hasn't had to worry about her seat since winning election in 2008, the first Republican challenger for her spot revealed his intentions to run Tuesday. That candidate is Greg Brannon, a Cary obstetrician and Tea Party leader, and he made the decision official today.
Sen. Hagan wouldn't comment on the candidate when asked for a statement by a reporter, saying she was focused on the issues at hand, such as the sequestration and the economy of the state. "I am working hard in D.C. right now to solve these problems," she said.