By Betsy Cribb
The so-called federal-budget sequester begins Friday, but the local impact will not likely be felt right away, local officials say.
The $85-billion across-the-board cut in the pending Congressional budget is extensive, says Washington and Lee University Professor of Economics Linda Hooks.
“It involves cuts in defense spending, cuts in education, cuts in public health. The list includes aid to families that need additional food assistance, food and meal support for senior citizens,” Hooks said. “It’s a list that’s meant to look unattractive, and it does.”
The list of cuts also includes grants that support law enforcement.
According to a White House fact sheet, Virginia is expected to lose about $276,000 in Justice Assistance Grants.
These grants support many facets of law enforcement, including crime prevention, drug treatment and witness assistance.
Rockbridge County Sheriff Chris Blalock said he believes that the Justice Assistance Grants cut won’t directly affect his department immediately.
But he fears that the spending cuts could lead to problems down the road.
Blalock said that state spending cuts have caused problems for the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Department before.
“Not so many years ago, the state . . . supported our office expenses. They paid mileage; they paid portions of our vehicles, paid for gas. And right now, they’ve taken all those funds away, and now they’re just paying for salaries,” Blalock said.
Blalock said that the spending cuts could force Rockbridge County to have even more financial responsibility in the future.
The county would have to increase taxes or cut services, Blalock said.
The military will also be hard hit by the sequester. The defense industry faces an 8 percent budget cut.
HDT Global is a national defense contractor that makes military tents and has a factory in Buena Vista. Brian Dearing, a vice president, said he isn’t concerned about the impending budget cuts.
“HDT Global doesn’t anticipate any layoffs or reductions in force. We are lean and agile enough to sustain reductions,” Dearing said.
Hooks says she thinks that Congress has already left the sequester behind.
A much more serious issue, she says, is the general appropriations bill that must be passed by the end of March.
“With the sequester, the government is open,” she said. “With this appropriations bill at the end of March, the government could potentially close down.”
Chelsea Stevenson and the Associated Press also contributed to this story.