The federal budget sequester is cutting a jagged line across the metro-east.
In a myriad of ways, large and small, the battery of automatic spending cuts set in motion March 1 is affecting Southwestern Illinois' economy. Consider:
* Federal contractor Aero NavData, of Columbia, faces the prospect of laying off more than half its 45 employees by next month because of the budget cuts.
"It's a shame," said Neal Covington, the president and CEO of the firm that produces navigational data for military customers. "We built some really fantastic processes for the government, and to have it shut down just because of these guys bickering back and forth in Washington, D.C., is somewhat ridiculous."
* At the federal medium security prison in Greenville, corrections officers had been notified they must take 14 days' worth of unpaid furloughs starting next month but on Friday U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in a memo that $150 million was shifted from other funds in the U.S. Department of Justice to avert the furloughs until September.
The unarmed officers often supervise more than 100 inmates at a time by themselves, said Greg Warren, a corrections officer and president of the union local that represents more than 200 prison employees.
Holder did not did not say which department agencies were tapped for the $150 million.
"I am deeply troubled by the impact the sequester will have on the department's capacity to prevent terrorism, combat violent crime, partner with states and local law enforcement agencies and protect the judiciary and our most vulnerable citizens," Holder wrote.
* At Scott Air Force Base in Mascoutah, more than 2,000 airmen and other uniformed personnel were informed last week the Pentagon will stop providing them with tuition assistance because of the sequester, according to Roland Smith, the base education manager.
"We've just opened up another group of folks looking for the same limited resources," Smith said. "They're looking for the same pot of money that civilian people are, too."
However, Congress sought to soften some of the damage caused by the sequester.
Late last week, federal lawmakers approved and sent to the White House measures that would restore tuition assistance for military personnel and allow the Agriculture Department to avert furloughs for government meat inspectors.
The federal budget sequester aims to trim $85 billion from the federal budget during the next six months, with half that sum coming out of Defense Department cuts. Uniformed personnel are exempt from the cuts, but not civilian employees.
As result, at least 700,000 civilian Defense Department workers are set to take 20 unpaid furlough days between April and September. This includes about 4,500 Scott air base workers, resulting in a $28 million direct hit to the metro-east economy.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, toured Scott on Friday, and then met with Greenville corrections officers.
No matter what, it's too late to stop the big budget cuts triggered by the sequester, according to Shimkus.
"It's not an issue anymore. It's done," he said. "This is how we're going to operate now until the end of the fiscal year. Until we get to the table, to a grand bargain that addresses entitlement programs, discretionary spending is always going to be at risk."
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, issued a statement alluding to his career in the Illinois National Guard, including the five years he spent as the adjutant general.
"After 35 years in the military, I am very disappointed that political defectiveness in Washington would put jobs and public safety at risk," Enyart said. "I am working every day to make sure Congress hears the concerns from Southern Illinois and how unwillingness to reason or cooperate is jeopardizing our well-being present and future."
One of the short-term effects of the budget sequester will be the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide, which will likely hurt the nation's nascent economic recovery, on both the state and federal levels, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The federal government provides about one-fourth of local and state revenues. Budget cuts triggered by the sequester will result in more than $6 billion in aid reductions to the states, according to a report issued by the center.
"There is substantial risk that future deficit-reduction legislation could impose still more cuts, especially if that legislation doesn't include substantial revenues," according to the report's authors.
These spending cuts are guaranteed to hurt the economy, David Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University.
"The worst part about it is that it's a mindless hurt to the economy," Swenson said. "This is political insanity almost to a degree that I've never seen."
Some Republican lawmakers have downplayed the severity of the sequester-triggered cuts, noting they only amount to about 3 percent of the nation's federal budget, and only about 8.9 percent of discretionary federal spending.
But that's a misleading figure, Swenson said.
"If you told somebody who was already on a lean diet to get by on 8.9 percent fewer calories," he said, "there's no conclusion other than their energy level would go down, their weight would go down and their ability to produce would be less."
The Associated Press contributed information to this article. Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2533.