OKLAHOMA CITY —
Broad government-wide spending cuts set to take effect on Friday could slash an estimated $137 million in federal funding from education, health, environment and other programs in Oklahoma, but state finance officials are worried more about the potential impact of defense cuts.
With five major military installations in the state and an array of federal contractors who work with those bases, the impact of mandatory spending reductions on Oklahoma’s economy could be enormous particularly on sales and income tax revenue, State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said Tuesday.
“I’m more concerned about the ripple effect and the potential decrease in consumer consumption because of furloughs and possible job losses, particularly in the defense industry in our state,” Doerflinger said.
If President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders don’t reach an agreement on an alternative deficit-reduction plan before Friday, $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts will take effect.
Chris Spiwak, owner of Chequers Restaurant and Pub outside Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, said he’s afraid he might have to lay off an employee or two if the federal workers who fill up his restaurant at lunchtime are required to stay home from work some days.
“We have customers telling us that if they’re furloughed, they won’t be coming in as much,” Spiwak said. “That’s their expendable income. They’ll be eating at home or bringing their lunches. I’ve already had customers telling me that.”
Tinker officials estimate 16,000 of the base’s 26,000 total workers will be forced to take furlough days if the cuts go into effect, with a total of $124 million in lost pay.
In a letter to base employees, Lt. Gen. Bruce Litchfield wrote that the most likely option for unpaid civilian furloughs would be one day per week for the last 22 weeks of the federal fiscal year, late April through September, for a total of 22 work days. That would equate to a 20 percent reduction in pay for each civilian worker at the base.
A similar plan is in place at Fort Sill, where about 2,600 employees are facing furloughs. Civilian workers at the state’s other military installations Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Altus Air Force Base and the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant also will be forced to take furlough days if the cuts move forward.
Another 3,200 civilian workers and 1,100 students at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City also would face furloughs, according to the FAA.
The federal agency also could shut down air traffic control towers at smaller airports in Ardmore, Lawton, Norman, Oklahoma City, Stillwater and Enid, as well as eliminate the evening shift at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.
The looming cuts also are leading to uncertainty among federal contractors, who are unsure of how their operations will be affected.
“I think everybody, as Americans, are concerned about it,” said Jennifer Hogan, a spokeswoman for Boeing Co., which employs about 1,350 workers in Oklahoma City who mostly work on Department of Defense contracts for repair and maintenance of KC-135 refueling tankers, and the B-1 and B-52 bombers at Tinker.
“Until we really hear from our customer what those things are going to be, there’s not a lot we can do right now,” she said.
Beyond the defense cuts, education officials say the federal cuts will have a major effect on schools in Oklahoma, with a potential impact of nearly $52 million, according to State Department of Education estimates.
“The percentge of students with disabilities, coupled with a high poverty rate those districts will be hit the hardest,” said Jeff Mills, director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. “Generally they’re your urban areas Oklahoma City and Tulsa that will see a huge impact.”
Teresa McAfee, the superintendent of the 300-student Crutcho School District in eastern Oklahoma City, said her district stands to lose a pre-kindergarten teacher, summer school and its extended-day program if the federal cuts are enacted.
“We could potentially lose 6 certified positions, and we only have 27 teachers,” McAfee said. “I hope these people up there get a clue and do what they need to do.
“We’re going to be in major trouble if we let them cut all these programs.”