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County Executive Baker urges Congress to avoid sequestration

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III joined Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett Tuesday to urge Congress to find a way to avoid sequestration.

"We want Congress to act, we need them to act now and not wait until March," Baker said at a news conference inside the Executive Office Building in Rockville.

Sequestration is a set of spending cuts set to take effect March 1 unless Congress can reach an agreement to avoid the cuts intended to reduce federal spending.

Baker, Leggett and Ulman held the news conference to increase awareness on the effects of sequestration.

"In the last few years we've been hit by a lot of weather-related storms, but on March 1 of this year, we may be hit by a financial storm, one that will severely impact our region," Leggett said.

Baker said just a five percent cut of the $5 billion federal procurement spending in Prince George's County would result in a loss of $150 million in revenue to the local economy.

About 10 percent of the Prince George's County's workforce, or 27,000 jobs, are federal jobs that could be impacted by sequestration and 16 percent of county residents are federal employees.

Education is also facing steep cuts, Baker said, including $1.5 in special education aid, $1.5 million in Title I funding and $500,000 in Head Start funding.

But he said the biggest problem with sequestration is the uncertainty moving forward.

"What we can't survive is the uncertainty," he said. "We need Congress to act and to act strongly."

In Howard County, more than 50,000 residents who work directly for the federal government or as a contractor could be affected by sequestration.

Ulman said he has already heard from Columbia businesses who are no longer hiring for fear of sequestration or have plans to lay off employees once sequestration takes effect.

"It (sequestration) will be a massive impact for many of these contractors who are throughout our communities," he said.

With cyber-hacking becoming more of a concern, Ulman questioned if it is really the best time to cut back on the cyber-defense work done at Fort Meade.

"What planet are we living on that anyone would think it would make sense to reduce the workforce of people that are working every day to protect our networks from cyber-hacking, cyber-theft," Ulman said.

Ulman said the looming sequestration effects are making it difficult to plan his fiscal 2014 budget, to be introduced in April, with a possible dramatic reduction in income tax revenue.

"It's tough to read the tea leaves and decide how to move forward," he said.

Ginanne Italiano, president of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, said the devastation of sequestration to the local economy can't be understated.

But she said people around the country are not paying attention to possible effects.

"We're seeing it here, we're embedded here," she said. "We're not seeing in other states that they're paying much attention like they did before. We need to get them out there and start pushing on this as well."

Leggett referred to the impending cuts as a "meat hammer approach."

"It's time to put partisan politics behind us and do the right thing," Leggett said. "We need Congress to act and act decisively."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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