Area's state lawmakers say Congress inaction could harm Florida recovery

Following a closed-door party caucus, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and GOP leaders meet with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, to challenge President Obama and the Senate to avoid the automatic spending cuts that take effect Friday.

Following a closed-door party caucus, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and GOP leaders meet with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, to challenge President Obama and the Senate to avoid the automatic spending cuts that take effect Friday.

US Representative Trey Radel on NewsMakers 02-03-13.

US Representative Trey Radel on NewsMakers 02-03-13.

Florida Senator Garrett Richter, R-Naples, on NewsMakers 02-03-13.

Florida Senator Garrett Richter, R-Naples, on NewsMakers 02-03-13.

— The vast, across-the-board federal budget cuts that go into effect today could have a ripple effect on Florida’s economic rebound, leaving some state lawmakers increasingly discontented with Congress.

“The frustration is that this is something we can’t influence,” state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Thursday during a Daily News editorial board meeting. “If these dysfunctional folks can’t get together, we would move from a surplus in revenue into a pool of red ink.”

It’s unclear exactly how much Florida stands to lose in federal dollars because of sequestration, but the cuts could lead to longer lines at airport checkpoints and less money for teachers.

“The cuts provided for will have a negative influence on the Florida budget,” said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples. “They are the black swans.”

The cuts — mandated under a 2011 law designed to avert a budget standoff in Washington — mean automatic cuts of $85 billion from a $3.6 trillion budget in the remaining fiscal year. The law includes an 8 percent cut to the Pentagon and 5 percent to domestic agency operating budgets.

“The Republicans have passed two bills that wouldn’t affect us in everyday lives. The Republicans are the adults at this table,” said Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers. “I just wish the president would do his job and prioritize when it comes to making more efficient cuts.”

Those cuts to defense could hurt Florida the most. In a letter to President Barack Obama on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott said Florida is one of the “most defense-centric states” with three unified combatant commands, 20 major Air Force and Navy installations and “very large segments of the nation’s defense industry.”

About 31,000 civilian Department of Defense employees in Florida will be furloughed, according to a White House fact sheet. Base operations in Florida for the Army will be cut by $7 million, while Air Force operations will be cut by $23 million.

Cuts to the defense budget aren’t the state’s only concerns.

Chris McCarty, director of the University of Florida’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said overall cuts could have an effect on the state’s rebounding economy.

The Republicans have passed two bills that wouldn't affect us in everyday lives. The Republicans are the adults at this table."

Trey Radel

“The general sense is it’s not going to derail everything,” he said. “But it is likely to lead to a slow-down.”

That slow-down comes from the fact that some federal agencies have been required to make cuts that have a direct impact on people, like furloughs or salary reductions. Since the Florida economy is so dependent on tourism, McCarty said state officials should expect to see a slight drop as people start adjusting to less money in their pocketbooks.

But having less money to travel isn’t the only issue. The U.S. Department of Transportation last week announced $600 million in cuts as part of the sequester, which includes cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration. The Transportation Security Administration also will have to reduce its front-line workforce, which could increase passenger wait times at airport security checkpoints.

Both Radel and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said when it comes to averting any substantial damage, it’s up to the president. Diaz-Balart, whose district includes part of Collier County, said he believes the president got exactly what he wanted.

“It would be humorous if it wasn’t so serious,” Diaz-Balart said. “It’s beyond dishonest to be out there campaigning and blaming others.”

But Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement this week that both sides need to get together to negotiate a deal.

“Sequestration — or, across-the-board budget cuts — were never intended to happen,” he said. “The main reason we don’t have a solution yet is because some in Washington are doing a Kabuki dance.”

__ The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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