If the "sequestration" -- which refers to a host of federal spending cuts -- were to happen, 90 fewer schools in Pennsylvania will receive funding.
Will the Nazareth Area School District land among the 90?
Superintendent Dennis Riker isn’t jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. Instead, he’s waiting for all of the facts to become available.
“We [Riker and the Nazareth Area School Board] haven’t taken a stance because we don’t know how the district will be affected,” Riker said after Monday night’s school board meeting.
Nazareth school officials have managed to reduce the projected property tax increase for the upcoming school year. And one new factor in the proposed spending plan is an unknown number of personnel cuts that equals $68,543.
A property tax increase of .92 mills has been cut to .73 mills. The .92-mill increase translated into a $72 hike for the average Nazareth area property, district business manager Bernadine Rishcoff previously said.
School officials worked on closing a deficit in the 2012-13 district budget. The planetarium in the high school was closed, a move that saved the district at least $48,000.
In 2011, the district’s driver education program was cut after the approval of a nearly $67 million budget that included a 1.7 percent tax increase and about $2.1 million in cuts, including 13 positions. Of those, seven were teachers.
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-17th District) said Monday he is calling on the House Republican leadership "to take action this week on a balanced plan to avert these damaging and mindless spending cuts."
"To date, Senate and House Democrats have offered fair, balanced plans to avert these damaging cuts. These proposals are built on responsible spending cuts, increased revenues, and growth with jobs. Yet Republicans have refused to work toward compromise on a plan to reduce the deficit because they refuse to ask the wealthy to pay a little more by closing tax loopholes," said Cartwright, who represents several municipalities in the Nazareth area.
President Obama has asked Congress to pass a short-term package to postpone the March 1 sequestration deadline. Republicans are pushing back, threatening to allow sequestration if tax reforms aren’t included in a deal.
Barb Walters, president of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party, said taxpayers are getting tired of financial crisis in Washington.
"Even when it was settled and Congress gave the President his tax cuts, now he's changing the rules of the game," Walters said. "We're going down the same road all the time. But we're not going to go back to sleep again."
Walters said the issue hasn't been discussed before the membership of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party, which meets monthly in Palmer Township.
"We really haven't talked about it so I don't know the consensus of the board," she said. "But this issue has been discussed for so long that it's getting boring. First, it was the Fiscal Cliff. Now they're bringing the same stuff up all the time without any decisions. Even when we think things are settled, they pop up again. Well, we're tired of the same old song and dance."
Sequestration cuts won't affect Social Security, Medicaid, Pell grants, veterans benefits and Defense Department spending on wars.
But it may do some damage locally.
Passengers at Lehigh Valley International Airport may have to wait in longer lines for security checks.
And desperate homeowners facing foreclosure might not be able to get help from the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.
Statewide, cuts would eliminate job search assistance for about 37,000 people and furlough 26,000 Department of Defense civilian contractors, Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said Monday. Pennsylvania would also lose $73 million for medical research funding and innovation.
Here are other possible local impacts:
- Head Start in the Lehigh Valley could see a cut of up to 8 percent. That could involve as many as 100 children losing places in Head Start as well as a decrease in personnel – 10 teachers and assistant teachers and home visitors, for example, according to Community Services for Children, based in Allentown.
- Lehigh Valley International Airport could lose its air traffic control midnight shift as a result of cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), according to LVIA Executive Director Charles R. Everett Jr. Passengers could experience delays getting through security if federal Transportation Security Administration workers are furloughed.
- Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley would lose about $125,000 of the $2.5 million the agency receives from federal sources. This cut would result in about 20 fewer homes being weatherized and would cripple the agency's efforts to save families from losing their homes to foreclosure, said Executive Director Alan Jennings.
"The crisis Congress imposed on itself is a reflection of its own inability to find a consensus on how to solve a problem it created. It would be amazing to see Congress, in all its wisdom, acknowledge that its own solution – sequestration – will impose new, untold crises on people in need and their opportunity-starved neighborhoods throughout the nation. This is the real story. The impact on the institutions that serve them is secondary."
Republicans are floating a plan to force the same amount of cuts but let the Obama administration decide where to make the cuts. Two Lehigh Valley lawmakers -- U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-15th District) and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey -- told the Morning Call they might be OK with that option.
"There's plenty of time to work out an agreement," said Casey, who is urging both sides to agree on a deal before March 1.
The problem with sequestration cuts, Casey said, is that they are not strategic or targeted based on priorities; they're indiscriminate.