Upcoming sequester to bring changes to Ft. Riley, Manhattan communities

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With one day remaining before the sequester budget cuts are set to take effect, students, faculty and the Manhattan community are feeling the pressure. At best, only a few aspects of common life will change. At worst, the local economy will be turned upside-down.

“Starting at the end of April to the end of September, we will need to have saved $46 billion dollars,” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, Pentagon spokesperson and U.S. Department of Defense press officer. “Half of these national cuts are coming from the defense department.”

Robbins said that the sequester, a group of across-the-board budget cuts the government is imposing Friday to save $85 billion to help the national deficit, will directly affect Riley County citizens.

“We work side by side with civilians in Fort Riley daily,” Robbins said. “Civilians on pay appropriated by the government will see a 20 percent pay decrease. This will, of course, have effects on the local economy. Imagine if you suddenly received 20 percent less of whatever your income is. It will certainly be felt.”

The sequester is the result of the 2011 Budget Control Act, designed to force Congress to create a compromise on the national debt ceiling. As of today, the plan hasn’t worked.

“The government is just going to stop spending money,” said Eric Higgins, professor of finance and head of the finance department. “Sequester is just a fancy word for ‘more cutting.'”

The White House and Congress remain in a deadlock over finding a solution to the problem that doesn’t force military bases to furlough its workers. With jobs in the balance, the time to figure out a solution rests within the next 24 hours.

“A lot of folks will have reduced hours or be out of a job,” Higgins said. “In particular, this will affect the military, and that’s a big impact locally. It will slow down the economy, for sure.”

K-State students are predicting the impact of the sequester already. Trying to scramble to save money at the cost of jobs shouldn’t be the concern right now, according to Connor Navrude, senior in finance.

“We don’t have the economic growth to even worry about the deficit yet,” Navrude said. “Congress needs to look at it from a finance perspective. We need to find economic growth before we start.”

The current standstill that the Budget Control Act was written to avoid was unavoidable, Navrude said.

“I feel like this is something that’s been recurring for a while,” Navrude said, in reference to national budget problems imposed by the government. “There’s always bickering and back-and-forth until literally the day before. Everyone involved is so stubborn.”

K-State faculty as well as students recognize the pattern.

“We’ve had a number of times Congress has kicked the can down the road in regards to budget,” said Dan Kuester, director of undergraduate studies in economics. “The idea was that people would face the problem instead of deal with the forced cuts.”

The cutting will strike the military the hardest, requiring them to cut funds for more than just pay.

“We’re also going to substantially cut money for base facility maintenance,” Robbins said of the Fort Riley base. “We’re going to cut money from training as well. We’re prioritizing those who are deploying in the next few months, but those who aren’t may not receive immediate training.”

Cuts such as these will surge the nation should the sequester pass on Friday. K-State took a proactive approach and researched the other effects of the sequester. The results prove displeasing for future students.

“We’ve done some checking, and it won’t affect governmental student aid until 2014,” said Larry Moeder, assistant vice president of student financial assistance. “Then Pell Grants could be reduced, by as much as 5 percent.”

The governmental financial aid provided to students through FAFSA and Pell Grants will take a hit from the sequester, perhaps a palpable one for students who do not immediately apply for the funds next year. Colin Huerter, junior in political science, believes that the importance of the issue is what’s keeping the government from solving it.

“This has a lot to do with education, employment and military, which are dividing issues already,” Huerter said. “The sequester will be an issue where the dividing lines will need to be flushed out.”

The politics of the decision complicate the issue quite a bit, according to Kuester.

“You don’t ever really simplify this,” Kuester said. “The projected debt for 2013 is $900 billion, so this sequester will only solve less than 1 percent of what we’ll owe.”

If Congress doesn’t provide an alternative solution for the sequester today, the budget cuts will go into effect at 12 a.m. Friday unopposed.

“Students need to realize that this will affect them more than they know,” Navrude said. “I’m a little scared, just with my personal investments. The stock market might take a hit too. I guess we’ll see.”

Students such as Navrude and Huerter feel that the responsibility shouldn’t be cast back and forth between governmental houses, but settled on all of us.

“As of right now, no party is going to get their way. We’ve got to work across the aisle,” Huerter said. “When it comes down to it, we need to meet the needs of households and small businesses. People come home from their jobs, to their families, and that’s what’s going to be altered.”

With the overall national debt resting at $16 trillion, some sort of action needs to be taken, says Higgins, and it will.

“It’s hard to tell what’s gonna happen, but we managed to get past the fiscal cliff. When push comes to shove, we can get something done,” Higgins said.

Huerter, though he said that the work it would take would be expensive and painstaking, agrees.

“As one of my professors eloquently put, ‘We’re on a bit of a time clock, but that seems to be when Congress does its best work,'” Huerter said.

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