Florida's Military Community Braces for Budget Cuts
March 01, 2013 | WMFE- Today is Sequestration Day, the day that Congress' mandatory budget cuts kick in at one minute before midnight. If the so-called sequestration takes effect, it will impact every federal spending program and have wide reaching effects throughout the nation including here in Florida.
Although it will take weeks or even months before the true impact is felt, Florida’s military community is already preparing for the impact.
Sequestration would severely hurt Florida’s defense industry, according to Governor Rick Scott. He’s concerned because it contributes more than $73 billion and 754,000 jobs to the state economy.
Scott also worries about the military bases – especially parts of the Panhandle, where 35 percent of the economy is linked to the military bases.
“It’s going to hurt us.” Scott said. “We’re a big military state. We’re the most military friendly state. We’ve got 20 military bases, three unified commands. They’ve got to do the right thing up there."
Scott wrote a letter earlier this week to President Obama stating that sequestration will mean “dramatic reductions to our National Guard”, which threatens our ability to respond to wildfires this spring and hurricanes this summer.
During an appearance in Lakeland Wednesday, Scott called the budget situation “disappointing.”
“They’re getting paid up in Washington.” Scott said. “They need to do what I had to do. I had to balance a budget. I walked in with a $3.7 billion budget deficit I walked in there I had to figure out the right way to allocate those dollars, prioritizing what’s important.”
They’re prioritizing where to cut at MacDill Air Force Base. Commander Colonel Scott DeThomas supervises about a third of the 3,000 civilian workers at MacDill Air Force Base. Most of the civilians could face furloughs beginning in late April that would equate to a 20 percent pay cut.
“So it’s going to be a dramatic impact on the base how we do business to lose basically 20 percent of the force, such a critical element of what we do out here that’s going to be an impact,” explains DeThomas. “The third big piece that’s going to be a great impact is on the mission.”
DeThomas is receiving guidance from his commanders who have identified almost $7 million in construction and maintenance projects to delay. But as commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing, what concerns DeThomas most is a 20 percent cut in flying of the refueling tankers and Gulf Stream jets.
“What you’ll probably see is instead of crews being proficient, you might see them barely qualified to fly the plane. Depending on how we institute the cuts you might see us take people off the planes and just sit them for a short period of time in hopes that once we get through the end of the year we’ll get back to flying normal.”
DeThomas says there will be a trickledown drain on airman readiness from boom operators to pilots.
“When the call comes – I may or may not be able to answer the call with the right amount or the right flavor because of the fact that we’ve allowed the training to slip.”
DeThomas is also preparing his military families for the stress that comes with budget cuts. A family resiliency training session is set today for families throughout the wing.
“We’ll bring families out; we’ll introduce some of the tools that our command is getting us smart on to help cover things that will prepare them mentally, physically, socially and economically for being able to handle the burdens that may come with sequestration.” DeThomas Says.
Veterans are another segment of Florida’s military community. Reportedly, their benefits are not a part of the automatic cuts. However Michael Dakduk, Executive Director of Student Veterans of America, is skeptical.
“You wonder are there administrative cuts?” Dakduk says. “There has been a bit of gray area on what could be cut in the VA.”
He’s specifically worried about the Transition Assistance Program called TAP. It helps active duty military transition into civilian life.
“When we talk about TAP that’s an interagency program so somebody else, a different agency is affected by that. It will affect the program.”
That would mean less opportunity for veterans seeking help with education, entrepreneurship and technical training when leaving the military.