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Ulman urges Congress to avoid sequester

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

"We're here to say we need a balanced approach, and we've got to get it done soon," Ulman said at a news conference inside the Montogomery County Executive Office 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.

Of the 162,000 working residents in Howard County, more than 50,000 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.

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

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."

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.”

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