Opinion

SCHLICHER | Cost of sequestration

As the impact of sequestration begins, I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the men and women elected to lead in Washington, D.C. They have decided to play a game of political chicken, risking harm to our state and its people.  Why congressional leadership would allow the impacts of sequestration to hit the families of Washington and waste resources in every federal program that must prepare for the cuts is beyond me.

Every public official needs to be a good steward of our tax dollars, but we also must ensure we provide essential government services. Our community plays an essential role in protecting our country and the freedoms we all cherish. The 26th District encompasses much of Naval Base Kitsap and is the home to families of service men and women at Joint Base Lewis McChord, two large defense facilities that will be affected by the sequestration.

We have already seen early impacts, such as the canceling of the Kitsap Naval Base job fair and planning for civilian furloughs. Impacts on deployment schedules and fleet plans may not be far behind. As our state works back from the depths of the recession, these reductions appear as roadblocks in our fight to drive down the unemployment rate and help men and women find family wage jobs.

We need to remember that our kids not only compete with kids from their schools or regions but will be the first generation to truly compete in the global economy. If Congress does nothing, cuts to education will not wait for a new school year but will impact our children now. More than $22 million in overall support for our state education system will be lost. One thousand participants in Head Start programs that help the youngest children in our education system get ready for kindergarten will lose the opportunity to learn and to grow.

Funding for 160 teachers and 140 aides to the disabled may lose their federal support and their jobs.  How can we accept such reductions when the Supreme Court tells us that we are already failing in our obligation to fund K-12 education?

In health care, we will incur more than $2.3 million in direct cuts to public health funding and chemical dependency treatment. Thousands of kids will have reduced support for vaccines they need to stay healthy.  Support for senior citizen nutrition programs and programs that assist children with access to health care will be eroded.  Those on Medicare may see cuts in coverage. These cuts have the potential of adding to our tax burden in the long run as people turn to the state for assistance.

These impacts are real and will touch the lives of all of us.  Families in our state have gone through challenging times, fighting to pinch pennies and make budgets work on diminishing resources.  When this happens, we do not make across-the-board cuts. We make smart, hard choices using common sense and an eagle eye on unnecessary costs. Why Congress would not display the same tenacity, drive and fiscal discipline in their decision making, I do not know.

While I serve as your representative in Olympia, I am also a constituent of our federal elected officials. Like you, I am tired of partisanship on all sides. I do not believe the solution to real needs is a game of chicken, waiting for one side to blink to avoid the crash.

The reality is that the people at the wheel in this game are not those who will suffer injury from their decision. The hammer will fall hardest on you and I, the men, women and children of our state and country. Let us all hope that a measure of grace will be poured out upon those in need to help us find a way out of this desert.

If it is not to be done in Congress, then I hope that each of us will care for our neighbors through these difficult days. Because at the end of the day, regardless of the decisions in the other Washington, we Washingtonians can and will care for our neighbors. Of that I have abiding faith.

Sen. Nathan Schlicher (D-Gig Harbor) represents the 26th Legislative District and sits on the Senate Health Care, Trade and Economic Development and Transportation Committees.

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