Moving Past the Sequester

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Okay, it happened. Sequestration. It’s been all over the newspapers, television screens, and computers: Congress messed up. We can cry about it all that we want, but the reality is that sequestration is here and there is nothing – at least in the short run – that we can change about it.

But that does not mean that we should continue to scorn all those in Washington who could not strike a deal, and it does not mean that we should continue to mourn our anticipated losses. Rather, it is time to face the facts and make the most of it. In particular, it is time for government officials to move forwards.

What do I mean by this? Take the state of California. After years of huge budget deficits, the Golden State was finally on firmer footing just a few weeks ago. Despite still relatively high unemployment, revenues and housing prices were up. In January, Governor Jerry Brown even announced the first balanced budget in years.

CaliforniaFlagHowever, because of the automatic federal budge cuts, California will suffer a huge blow to its large military industry as well as its nascent economic recovery. In fact, California is expected to lose over $9 billion in federal funding from the sequestration. Though a lofty number, according to Stephen Levy, the director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, “California will be an average state. We won’t be hit less, and we won’t be hit more.” In other words, the Californian economy will suffer just as much as the economies in the forty-nine other states.

But what irritates me is that no state (and California is no exception) knows how exactly the cuts will be carried out or in which areas, because the Office of Management and Budget has not yet announced specific sequestering plans. Thus, in the case of California, though officials know that the military, education, and other social programs will face large cuts, no one in California knows exactly how; no one knows how much federal support will be cut from each sector. And this is a huge problem.

Take California’s education system, for instance. With the uncertainty of the cuts’ magnitude, it is very difficult for school districts to plan for the 2013-2014 school year because according to state law, they must notify all staff members of their future employment statuses by March 15, a date only about a week away.

According to Erika Webb-Hughes, an official at the California Department of Education’s government affairs division, “People will be sending out pink slips. Even if at the end of the year there is a miraculous agreement in the Congress that averts a majority of this issue, the damage is already done.”

California is not peculiar to this problem. States have deadlines and need to plan for the future. Despite the sequestration being very unexpected, the federal government has no right to keep states in the dark, even if it is only for a few weeks.

Congress has an obligation to respect the states’ rights, and regardless of how colossal the budget cuts are and despite the fact that March 1st was only a few days ago, Washington should have been prepared – the states deserve the right to know about their future budgets as soon as possible so that they too can move forwards.

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