FEELING IT DEEP: Unless Congress can agree to a compromise, federal spending cuts could hurt local education, safety and aviation interests. (File photos)

FEELING IT DEEP: Unless Congress can agree to a compromise, federal spending cuts could hurt local education, safety and aviation interests. (File photos)

CITYWIDE — Unless Congress comes to some kind of compromise, $1.2 trillion in automatic federal spending cuts will take effect on Friday that will hit Santa Monica, although how much and when is still up in the air.

Various departments within Santa Monica’s municipal government could feel the effect of such cuts, as would money that flows to the local school district to help the neediest students.

Santa Monica Airport has also been named as one of 200 general aviation airports across the country that could lose its control tower, which would have some impact on flights coming in and out.

The cuts, called “the sequester,” were part of the Budget Control Act passed in August 2011, which guaranteed that across-the-board cuts would take place between 2013 and 2021 assuming that the Congress could not come up with a better deal.

The cuts are evenly split between defense and discretionary domestic spending, but will not impact things like Social Security and Medicaid.

The cuts were originally supposed to take place at the beginning of the year, but were postponed until March 1.

As of right now, departments do not have the flexibility to target the cuts, meaning they will chop both useful programs and those that could use a trim.

In the words of Washington Post writer Ezra Klein, the sequester was “designed to be a bad idea.”

It’s a bad idea that Santa Monicans will feel.

Education funding in California will be cut by $87.6 million in the first year of the sequester, and another $62.9 million would be taken out of education for children with disabilities.

That could equate to an 8 percent cut over seven months to federal funds which flow to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, which specifically includes special education, funding for pre-schools and monies meant to help even the playing field for low-income children and families, said Terry Deloria, assistant superintendent of Education Services.

The federal budget calendar runs from Oct. 1, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013, which means a lot of the money for the 2012-13 school year will already have been spent, Deloria said.

“Since most of the ‘12-’13 school year will have elapsed, we may need to make significant changes due to cuts for the months of April, May, June, August and September,” Deloria said. “As a precaution, any request to fill positions funded by federal dollars are being directed to the senior cabinet for consideration.”

Head Start — a federally-funded program that promotes school readiness of children up to age 5 from low-income families — will lose 8,200 students across California, according to a White House analysis.

The federal Department of Transportation will see $1 billion cuts, according to a letter by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and roughly $600 million of that will come out of the Federal Aviation Administration.

That means an 8.2 percent cut to each non-defense budget item, according to the National Air Traffic Controller’s Association, and could result in furloughs for between 2,000 and 2,200 air traffic controllers.

Think longer lines and fewer flights in major hubs like Los Angeles International Airport, where the White House estimates that peak wait times could grow to four hours or more.

Locally, it may mean that SMO loses its control tower, which is staffed by air traffic controllers until 9 p.m. each day.

That could lead to some inefficiencies in flight take offs and landings, although the airport will still run safely, said Robert Trimborn, the manager at SMO.

“Most [general aviation] airports don’t have control towers. We’re the exception to the rule,” Trimborn said. “When you fly out of airports without control towers, it’s the same as getting in a car. No one clears you to go across the street when you get into an uncontrolled intersection.”

There are already protocols in place to ensure that non-towered airports are safe, he said.

National Parks will also take a hit, which could impact service to the locals that use them.

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Center has created a contingency plan that involves reducing youth programming which could delay or eliminate education and service learning opportunities for 6,000 kids, said Kate Kuykendall, spokesperson for the center.

Most of those students come from under-served communities in Southern California.

There will also be a shift away from preventative maintenance to make sure daily needs are covered, she said.

“I think that we’ll be so busy trying to take care of daily stuff like making sure toilet paper is available and picking up the tree limb that’s blocking the road that we won’t be able to invest in longer-term infrastructure for the park,” she said.

That means things like sewer lines, roadways and items and services needed for trail maintenance and building.

Local police and fire departments could also see a reduction in grant funding, although what that will look like hasn’t yet been determined.

The Santa Monica Police Department receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, said Sgt. Richard Lewis, spokesperson for the SMPD.

While the cuts will not be retroactive, they will impact the amount of grants available for coming years, he said.

Those grants are used to train officers and buy special equipment and gear used to prepare for homeland security that police departments might not otherwise be able to afford, Lewis said.

“A lot of cities and departments can’t afford to pick up this equipment that’s needed for mass events,” Lewis said.

Training also involves sending officers away from their daily duties, which requires that they be backfilled with other employees.

Without the financial wherewithal to accomplish that, many officers will not be as highly trained as they are now, he said.

“We would just be responding to calls and not training,” Lewis said.

Fire Chief Scott Ferguson said that although sequestration may have an impact on the Department of Homeland Security, fire chiefs have not been notified of specific cuts to state or federal grants.

 

 

ashley@smdp.com