Sequester demonstrates disturbing lack of leadership

Mar. 02, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

From the local down to the national level, the prospect of budget cuts has left organizations and individuals alike in a state of limbo — or even outright panic.

Nationally, yesterday marked the implementation of the sequester — ushering in some $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts — which are promised to impact defense, education, healthcare, transportation and a host of other areas. As predicted, the zero-hour passed without a deal or even any real attempts at negotiation.

Depending on the person asked, these cuts are not cuts at all, relatively minor or an unimaginable catastrophe. Opinions are equally divided on who shoulders the blame — whether responsibility lies with the president, Congress or some combination of the two.

If our elected leaders can't even agree about the severity of the sequester's impact, is it any wonder that consensus on other aspects of the situation is non-existent?

Personal opinions aside, the consequences of the impending reductions are already being felt. In North Carolina, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base has canceled The 2013 Wings Over Wayne Open House and Air Show, which was scheduled for May 18-19, as a cost-cutting measure. Elsewhere, U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement has conducted a mass release of detainees in a bid to trim expenses. Media outlets reported Friday that furlough notices were already trickling out to federal employees.

The White House warns that the effects may not be felt immediately, but they will be felt widely. Critics denounce these admonitions as scare tactics.

Independent of the sequester, the City of Sanford and the Town of Broadway are bracing for budgetary blows. A county-driven change in the sales tax distribution method appears possible, if not probable, which would redirect about $1.4 million in revenue from the municipalities to the county's coffers.

Combined with losses from property tax revaluations, Broadway's shortfall would amount to roughly $150,000. Wanting the town council to “look at every single option,” Town Manager Bob Stevens even offered his own position for the chopping block.

Hard times call for hard measures, and few would argue that federal spending shouldn't be reined in, or that Lee County doesn't have the right to determine how sales tax revenue is apportioned — but that's not the point.

There are, as the axiom goes, many ways to skin a cat — but some of them may not be advisable. In the case of the sequester, does agreement that the federal budget is bloated warrant indiscriminate, arguably irresponsible, cutting?

This approach could be likened to a garment going in for an inch of alterations, and rather than taking it up from the bottom, the tailor has removed part of a sleeve or a swatch in the middle. Another comparison could be made to shooting without aiming.

How a goal is achieved can be every bit as important as getting there, and trimming without targeting is reckless. Would it be wise for a family to treat its cable or vacation line items the same as its grocery budget and mortgage?

To their credit, county and municipal leaders are at least having fruitful discussions. The same could not be said of their national-level counterparts, who are letting party affiliation and personality conflicts trump their duty to their constituents. We elect our representatives to be problem solvers, and yet in the days and weeks leading up to the deadline, when they were present, officials on both sides of the aisle were grandstanding, refusing to budge and trading blame.

If a fiscal crisis were addressed (or not addressed, as it were) this way in the private sector, those paid to forge solutions would be out of a job in one way or another. Sadly, the real losers in this scenario are the American people, who deserve much better from those they entrust to represent their interests.

Those in positions of power at all levels of government would do well to remember that what they do, or fail to do, will be their legacy. When they bicker rather than buckle down, and put politics above progress, the people are watching.