Congress has about two weeks to steer clear of the so-called fiscal cliff, which will include deep, across-the-board cuts to a range of federal government programs.
For those who think these cuts will be relegated to a small subset of workers or agencies, think again. Should a deal not get brokered, virtually all of Fairfax County’s 1.1-plus million residents will feel some pain.
Best known as "sequestration," the cuts are due to go into effect Jan. 1 unless federal lawmakers can agree on an alternate budget plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion by 2021.
Even by the most conservative estimates, sequestration will result in major tax hikes, deep cuts in defense spending, hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, and a huge anchor on economic growth. In Fairfax and neighboring counties, most of the sequestration-related concerns center on defense cuts and their impact on thousands of local defense contractors.
Those concerns are more than justified. Since 1980, federal contracting in Northern Virginia has risen from $1.7 billion to nearly $40 billion annually. That’s billion with a ‘b’. In 2009, Fairfax County raked in more than $23 billion in federal money, more than any other county in the nation.
Stephen Fuller of George Mason University predicted sequestration cuts could cost Virginia 207,000 jobs and put a $20.9 billion hole in Virginia’s economy.
If even half of today’s government contractors stop doing business in Fairfax County, hundreds of small businesses that rely on federal contracts for their livelihood will be devastated. Much of the hit will be felt directly as contractors shutter their doors. A lot will also be felt indirectly as a massive reduction in discretionary spending from those contractors and their families negatively impacts the bottom line of many small businesses. Restaurants in Springfield will serve fewer meals, sporting goods stores in Chantilly will sell fewer jerseys and tire shops in Vienna will change fewer tires.
Unfortunately, those aren’t the only folks being impacted.
Most of us may not realize that dozens of critical local services are at least partially supported by federal dollars, and most of those programs could see funding reductions of 6, 8 or even 10 percent. In stark terms, that translates to fewer services for the elderly, less funding for schools to provide services for students with disabilities, and major cuts to housing and jobs programs. It also means less money for transportation resources and mental health programs that address critical issues like teen suicide and depression.
Even if an agreement is reached in the next 48 hours, many of the aforementioned programs will likely lose a big chunk of funding. That said, any resolution before Jan. 1 would provide lawmakers an opportunity to consider the cuts’ overall impact and make better decisions rather than automatic cuts.
Over the next few days, it would behoove anyone who calls Fairfax County home to familiarize themselves with ‘sequestration’ and its potential impact on our region.
If you don’t like what you’re reading or hearing, take a few minutes to write your Congressman and let them know that there is no higher priority than crafting a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan before the end of the year to avoid automatic — and potentially catastrophic — spending cuts tied to this sequester.
If you live or work in Northern Virginia, it’s well worth 10 or 15 minutes of your time.