BOSTON — State agencies and workers are scrambling to understand how looming federal budget cuts would affect government activities and the Massachusetts economy as a whole.
But until the so-called sequester actually goes into effect — this Friday, if Congress does not act — it’s a little hard to pinpoint the expected impact.
After a weekend trip to Washington, D.C., Gov. Deval Patrick said he’s “scared” about the budget cuts. But he says they could be worse.
“There doesn’t seem to be any difference of opinion that the sequester will slow the pace of the recovery,” Patrick said. “It’s not going to be the kind of impact that we had around the debt ceiling. But by many measures it will certainly slow recovery at a time when we are just starting to get traction nationally, and I certainly don’t want to see that happen here.”
According to data released by the White House, education grants totaling more than $26 million would be cut. That could cost 190 educators their jobs, the White House says, and affect education for 20,000 elementary and high school students. Head Start early education services for some 1,100 low-income families would be eliminated. And the White House estimates that payrolls for civilian defense workers in Massachusetts would decrease by $43 million, with 7,000 workers taking forced furloughs.
“It’s certainly getting more intense right now,” said Glen Shor, Patrick’s secretary of administration and finance. He met Monday with top staffers to parse the latest data coming from Washington. Shor says it’s still unclear how soon the cuts would start to take a significant toll. There may be ways, for instance, for the federal government to put off education cuts until next school year.
But Shor rejects claims that the Obama administration or its Office of Management and Budget are playing politics with the numbers.
“Plans will take more shape as we get more information from the federal government and OMB about exactly how sequestration will be effectuated if it does take effect,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s the case that OMB’s numbers are somehow scare tactics or out-of-whack with reasonable thinking about the potential impacts.”
Over at Logan International Airport, state planners are hearing from federal aviation and transportation officials that they should prepare for cutbacks in hours for both air traffic controllers and checkpoint security.
Ed Freni, Massport’s aviation director, says he’s been told that aviation-related cutbacks won’t hit until April. But then, Freni says, travelers should be prepared for disruptions and delay.
“This is going to be a system-wide issue, not just here at Logan Airport, but it will affect the entire lineup of aircraft departures and arrivals,” he said.
Massport, Freni says, will be ready to step in to improve traffic flow – working to make sure, for instance, that if there’s an unscheduled influx of flights, passengers won’t be left sitting on the tarmac.
“We have the ability to open up the Amelia Earhart building, which is a terminal that has been silent for some time,” he said. “We can offload people into our 100-passenger buses and use air stairs as long as the weather and climate are good. So there’s a number of ways of doing that.”
Still, that’s the kind of scenario most Americans might prefer to avoid, Patrick among them.
“It ought not be that complicated, particularly when you look at the weight of public opinion and the support for a balanced solution,” he said.
With Republicans and Democrats, including Patrick, continuing to blame each other for the crisis, the governor says he sees little chance that a deal would be struck by Friday’s deadline.