Hill Air Force Base, the state’s largest employer, could be facing severe budget cuts under Congress’ efforts to reduce the budget deficit. These cuts come as part of some of the mandatory budget “sequestration” that will take effect on March 1 of this year.
Last year, the state appropriated $500,000 in funds to the base. This year, Hill Air Force Base is asking for $750,000 to protect the base and its civilian employees from furloughs and salary cuts.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, as originally reported by the Deseret News, said Hill Air Force Base and the Utah Test and Training Range “provides something unique in the nation.” Chaffetz, along with other officials, said he wants to protect Hill Air Force Base and its employees from the certain economic downturn that would result from the huge spending cuts.
If the proposed cuts from Congress are not resolved by Congress, or if money is not appropriated by the Utah State Legislature by March 1, Hill Air Force Base will start massive civilian employee furloughs, 800,000 in total, reducing take-home pay by about 20 percent for the average civilian employee, according to Congressman Rob Bishop, as reported by KUTV.
Rachel Hoferitza, a freshman at Weber State University whose father is employed at Hill Air Force Base, said she strongly disagrees with cutting defense.
“Our military is our defense. Why would you cut something that is keeping us safe?” she said.
On base, at the exchange, one cashier, who declined giving her name for privacy reasons, said the Department of Defense has already had to sacrifice enough in the name of reducing deficits. While she and her family would be able to make ends meet if the furloughs were put in place, she said they “wouldn’t be able to enjoy the luxuries that we do now.”
Not everyone would still be able to cover all the bills comfortably if the furloughs went into place. Lauren Johnson, whose husband works as a civilian airman at Hill Air Force Base, said the budget cuts and furlough days will hit her family hard, but that she understands why the government is putting them in place.
“Budget cuts are something that’s necessary, but I feel like they’re targeting such a small group of people that it’ll make it harder for them to live up to the economy right now and how prices are right now,” Johnson said. “I know that, because of the budget cuts, my husband will work one day less a week for six months, and that cuts out a fourth of his paycheck. That’s going to be really hard for us to adjust to.”
T.R. Reddy, a professor of political science at WSU, said he thinks the government could make a better decision about the spending cuts, but that the cuts are automatic, and if the government doesn’t move on them in some way before March 1, it doesn’t matter how much the cuts are disliked; they will happen anyway.
Reddy also pointed out that it’s not just defense being trimmed down; all government programs are losing some funding. Programs for student aid, transportation and health are also seeing cuts in budgets as part of an effort to eliminate some of the spending deficit.
Part of the unrest causing a delay on any sort of aid or resolution is coming from Congress because a compromise cannot be reached. The Democratic Party wants to close loopholes in tax laws to generate revenue. Reddy gave the example of a taxpayer claiming his or her yacht as a second home as one loophole the Democrats would like to close. Another example he gave was “the subsidies to the oil companies when they’re already making huge profits.”
On the other side of the aisle, the Republican Party wants to rely solely on budget cuts to reduce the deficit.
“Cuts have to be made,” Johnson said. “It’s just hard to be the person that they’re being made on. Over time, they’ll come up with a way to fix it, hopefully.”
For now, the public will have to wait for the Utah State Legislature to either rejoice in the appropriation of funds to cover the sequestration cuts at Hill Air Force Base, or deal with the possible economic weakening.