- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Let’s not sugarcoat this. Unless Congress acts in the coming weeks to stave off deep cuts to the military budget, the impact on St. Mary’s County will be severe.
Beginning in April, the income of civilian workers at Patuxent River Naval Air Station could be cut by 20 percent, as they may be ordered to take one unpaid furlough day each week for up to 22 weeks.
The military contractor workforce could be reduced, which means people will lose their jobs.
These are not rumors or wild speculation. They are actions that the commander of the Naval Air Systems Command, which is headquartered at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, described last week as imminent possibilities as the command faces $3.5 billion in budget cuts this year.
If these things occur, they may bring belt-tightening and hard times to thousands of families who live in St. Mary’s. And they will bring challenges and changes to the rest of the community. “Everybody is affected by this at the end of the day,” St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan said last week.
It’s possible that the most drastic consequences will be averted at the last minute, if Congress acts to divert sequestration — severe, automatic budget cuts due to kick in March 1. But even if that happens, NAVAIR is operating under a continuing budget resolution that sets funding at last year’s levels in the face of rising expenses, and even that resolution expires March 27.
It’s going to be a tough and tumultuous spring and summer for many in St. Mary’s unless there is a comprehensive budget agreement in Congress. Again, such a last-minute agreement is still possible. But let’s face it: Congress has a recent track record of lurching from crisis to crisis, dimming hopes for a rational long-term compromise now.
And so St. Mary’s County may have to adjust to a new reality. Our community, so heavily reliant on federal spending, was spared the worst impacts of the recession that began nearly five years ago. Now it may face a time of austerity and restructuring, as other communities and industries throughout the country already have.
Many families are facing economic worries and uncertainty. But the community can withstand this. St. Mary’s has among the highest median family incomes in the nation; that ranking may slip, but the Navy base is still here and will remain here, performing work vital to the nation’s defense.
The county government has been sitting on a large surplus; county leaders have said they’ve been saving it for a rainy day. Vital services don’t have to be suddenly cut back during this period of change and uncertainty. Tax revenue won’t decline, if it does, until next year. Decisions here can be made deliberately and rationally.
Community leaders were advising people last week not to panic. Panic would be unproductive and useless. But everyone, in nearly every household and business, may have to square their shoulders and adjust to economic uncertainty. And those whose incomes are not immediately at risk must watch out for those who may be bearing the worst of these changes, over which they have no control.