ANCHORAGE - Sequestration, the automatic budget cuts that many federal agencies are moving to implement as of March 1, are set to bring furloughs, hiring freezes, and interruption of services around the country.
And Alaska is no exception.
“We're about a $100 million dollar operation in Alaska,” said John Quinley, a spokesman for the National Park Service. He said that budget cuts for the NPS “will collectively add up to about five million dollars” in cuts across Alaska.
Quinley said those cuts will delay or eliminate hundreds of seasonal hires, workers who often perform jobs that are vital to park operations.
“Bringing on seasonals later could mean a delay in opening of facilities, or just fewer programs offered to visitors,” he said. At popular sites like Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park or the front country in Denali National Park, Quinley said that could mean delays in opening the parks come spring.
“We should begin plowing the park road within the next couple of weeks,” Quinley said, referring to the main road into Denali. “That usually involves seasonal workers on the road crew, and if we're delayed in doing that for very long, that will delay the opening of the park road.”
The sequestration also means getting to, from, and around the state could be come a challenge.
“This is going to have an enormous impact,” US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in Washington yesterday.“ LaHood said the FAA has to cut nearly $600 million from its budget due to sequestration.
“Safety is our top priority,” LaHood said, “and we will never allow the amount of air travel we can handle safely to take off and land, which means travelers should expect delays.”
The cuts from the FAA could close over 100 air traffic control towers at airfields across the country with fewer than 150,000 flights a year. So far, no airports in Alaska have been named, but that air traffic target describes nearly all the airports in the state.
Already, one local business has felt the impact from sequestration. A Girdwood business that provides hiking and guiding services said today that sequestration has cost the owners a federal contract, which means several local guides will be out of jobs.
Now, as each agency scrambles to figure out what sequestration will mean for them, Quinley said everyone is sure to feel the sting of budget cuts.
“This is a very dynamic situation that we haven't been in before, the rules are changing really from day to day.”
The White House has prepared a state-by-state breakdown of cuts that could go in to affect if sequestration isn’t halted through agreement by Congress. In total, they estimate that the state of Alaska could lose up to roughly $130 million dollars in federal funding if the sequester goes in to full effect.