Welcome to life in the sequestration age, where folks are sent home from work and government services are reduced because Congress and the president couldn't figure out a reasonable way to reduce spending.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that the onset of sequestration — $85 billion in cuts this year, $1.2 trillion over the next decade — will mean closing 149 air traffic control towers that are operated by contractors. Four of those towers are in Oklahoma: Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City, OU's Westheimer Airport in Norman, Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport and Stillwater Regional Airport.
The closings are scheduled to begin in April. The FAA says it must cut $637 million as a result of sequestration; closing towers is one way to get to that number. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, had suggested ways for the agency to cut millions in non-priority spending, but to no avail.
State officials have been bracing for sequestration's effects. They've said that Oklahoma could lose $137 million this year in direct federal funding as a result of the cuts, including $50 million for education and about $40 million for health and human services.
In central Oklahoma, where about one of every 20 jobs is related to the government, the pinch figures to be substantial. The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber says one study suggests the city area could see the unemployment rate increase by half a percentage point as civilian government workers are let go. Tinker Air Force Base could furlough 15,000 civilian employees; statewide, Air Force furloughs could reach 16,000, resulting in $20.3 million lost in deferred and canceled military work projects.
The government is being made to trim about 2 percent of its overall spending. Certainly, Uncle Sam could otherwise get along just fine without that money. It's the across-the-board nature of the cuts, with defense being particularly hard hit, that make them so irresponsible and, for some, painful.