The thing about issuing a threat is that carrying it out can be ugly business. Such is the case with the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts that will be triggered on Friday should Congress and President Barack Obama continue their impasse on budget negotiations. Aside from being a big word flavored with political finger-pointing and grandstanding, sequestration has very real implications for each state - and its residents - and Colorado is no exception.
The state stands to face $85 million in automatic cuts that will be spread across education, military readiness, clean air, water and wildlife protection, public health, law enforcement and other programs. As is to be expected with universal cuts, the impacts of decreased federal funding will be felt far and wide by Coloradans. It is not surprising, but it serves to bring the Washington, D.C.-based rhetoric of blame and record of inaction home in a painful way.
The dollars boil down to very real jobs and essential services. Under sequestration, an $8.4 million reduction in federal funding would translate to approximately 120 primary and secondary teacher and aide positions threatened, as well as funding for 40 schools and 12,000 students. Teachers and staff that help children with disabilities would lose $8.1 million in funding, 700 Colorado children would lose Head Start services, and college students would have fewer work study options available. Those diminished programs will have far-reaching implications on educational outcomes, to say nothing of the jobs they currently provide.
Military readiness takes the biggest hit in Colorado under sequestration, primarily through decreased spending for Army and Air Force operations in the state which would lose $57 million and $8 million, respectively. Roughly 12,000 civilian Department of Defense employees in Colorado would be out of work as well. In a state with more than 2.5 million people employed, those are not staggering numbers, but they are not insignificant. The lost jobs would mean a payroll reduction of $68.5 million - a total that would reverberate throughout the state's economy in decreased spending.
Reduced federal funding for clean air and water programs, as well as such important public health functions as disaster and infectious disease response and substance abuse prevention and treatment, could have profound effects on individuals' lives and those of their families. The same is true for law enforcement programs that support crime victims, prevention and prosecution and other public safety initiatives.
The conversation around sequestration has disproportionately centered around whose bad idea the concept was and who is to blame for not fixing the problem as it the Feb. 28 deadline looms ever closer. Absent from this discussion is a path to fixing it - a gap that is glaringly apparent to governors from both political parties across the nation. As the numbers show, these leaders will have some significant holes to fill come Friday. The governors and their constituents are right to demand better from the lawmakers in Washington, D.C., who set the stage for this latest avoidable mishap. What remains unclear is whether those in Congress or the White House will answer that call before the threat they made comes due. The mess they made is theirs, but we will all suffer for it.