June 20, 2018
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Federal budget cuts would mean unpaid days off for Maine workers

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Nearly 600 civilian Department of Defense workers in Limestone could forced to take unpaid days off and aircraft associated with the Maine Air National Guard in Bangor could be grounded because of federal budget cuts scheduled to kick in Friday unless Congress can agree on a balanced federal budget.

Sequestration, a total of $85 billion in federal government cuts that will phase in over the next seven months unless Congress can enact a balanced budget, would affect close to 600 civilian employees of the Defense Finance and Accounting Services facility in Limestone. According to Peter Rogers, communications director for the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, furloughs for those employees could average one day per week for up to 22 weeks beginning April 25.

“This equates to a 20 percent cut in pay and days of lost time, which will definitely have an impact on military readiness,” said Rogers in a press release.

Officials also warned that sequestration could affect more than 6,000 other Mainers whose jobs are dependent on the Pentagon, the majority of them at Bath Iron Works and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Gov. Paul LePage said in a press release Monday afternoon that the federal cuts also could hurt the readiness of the Maine National Guard because they would drain money away from crucial maintenance accounts.

“With National Guard armories and facilities in numerous communities throughout Maine, the impact will be immediate and felt across the entire state,” LePage said Monday afternoon in a press release. “These cuts will degrade military readiness, the safety of Maine’s citizens and hurt Maine’s economy. I am especially concerned about the effect that these cuts may have on our military families and the support given to our soldiers and airmen when they return from duty.”

Under sequestration, the Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing in Bangor potentially could be forced to ground aircraft because of reduced flying time and reduced maintenance. Army Guard units throughout Maine also might not be able to maintain their helicopters and other vehicles or adequately train soldiers for combat.

Brigadier Gen. James D. Campbell, adjutant general of Maine, said Monday that the cuts could affect the wing’s ability to handle domestic emergencies in the short term and overseas missions in the long term.

“There is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon us, and the scale of those cuts, combined with the negative effects of the lack of an approved federal budget, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force,” said Campbell.

Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both Democrats, lobbied in favor of Maine civilian defense workers living under the cloud of sequestration in a Feb. 25 letter to House leaders.

“We strongly support putting our country on a fiscally sustainable path to address our deficit and our long-term debt, but sequestration is not the way to accomplish that goal,” wrote Michaud and Pingree. “Failure to come up with an alternative solution will have a devastating effect on Maine’s economy.”

According to the letter, some employees in Maine already have been notified of the possible furloughs and pay cuts.

Along with its estimates for how sequestration would affect the defense sector, the White House also said over the weekend that the process could trim more than $5 million in federal funding for primary and secondary education; work-study jobs for college students and Head Start programs for children; nearly $2 million in environmental funding; law enforcement, public health and job training grants; and funds that provide support to domestic violence victims and senior citizens.

Amy Brundage, White House deputy press secretary for the economy, said during a conference call with reporters Monday that the president remains hopeful about avoiding sequestration.

“These cuts were never intended to be policy,” she said. “They were intended to act as a forcing mechanism to force Congress to act in a certain way.”

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