W.Va. workers weigh in on federal cuts

CHARLESTON – As automatic budget cuts go into effect today, a group of workers from across the state tried to appeal to federal lawmakers to find a solution before these massive cuts affected West Virginia.

But one lawmaker said a plan presented to them would have increased spending at a time it was not feasible, compounding the state and nation’s problems further.

The West Virginia Democratic Party hosted a telephone press conference Thursday morning featuring representatives from West Virginia’s firefighting community and technology workers who would likely be affected by the cuts from the sequestration slated to go in effect today.

These workers called on Republican West Virginia Reps. David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito as well as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to find common ground with their Democratic colleagues and find a compromise to avoid these spending cuts.

John Dahlia of Global Science and Technology Inc. in Fairmont said the company does a lot of work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The company is within the West Virginia High Tech Corridor along Interstate 79.

They have around 80 employees and their families who could be impacted by these automatic cuts, he said.

“If these cuts go through the effects will be disastrous for West Virginia’s economy, sparking a ‘brain drain’ of high tech jobs from West Virginia and dealing a serious blow to our state’s growth,” Dahlia said. “These are highly educated people who are in line to lose their positions.

“These people would have to leave the state and go to places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland to find similar jobs.”

Dahlia said north central West Virginia could lose 4,500 jobs if these cuts go through.

Estimates say more than 10,000 jobs could be lost across West Virginia. West Virginia could lose more than $500 million in income.

“We are terrified of what could happen,” Dahlia said. “These cuts do not have to happen.

“The research and technological work being done along the I-79 high tech corridor is vital to creating the next wave of good paying jobs in West Virginia but all of it is at risk because House Republicans refuse to compromise to avert these cuts.”

Brian Jones, a firefighter from Morgantown with 17 years experience, said like many Americans, he wants a solution.

“Like many people, I am frustrated with the inaction in Congress,” he said. “Public servants like firefighters have to make bold decisions in a crisis to save lives and we expect our leaders in Washington to do the same, but congressional Republicans seem totally uninterested in taking any type of action.”

The effect is federal grants would be held, meaning departments would not get the equipment or training they need; this would end up putting lives on the line in a crisis, Jones said. Departments rely on these grants for funding and equipment purchases.

Dan Doyle, a representative for the workers at the National Energy and Technology Laboratory in West Virginia and for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1995, said these cuts will delay innovations like the ones moving the state’s Marcellus Shale natural gas development along. There could be a delay in processing people’s Social Security claims, law enforcement could see cuts and other important services can be impacted, he said.

“These cuts do not need to happen,” Doyle said. “I think they are wrong and Congress needs to step up and do something.”

McKinley, who some of this frustration was directed against, said the House did its part and acted months ago to replace the across-the-board cuts with targeted reductions.

“After fifteen months of doing nothing, today the Senate failed to find a solution in the final hours,” McKinley said. “This is disappointing, but frankly not surprising.

“While the House offered a serious plan to cut spending and reduce the deficit, the Senate Democrats’ plan actually increased the deficit with more spending. That is a political stunt not a realistic alternative.”

President Barack Obama was traveling the country and holding events to place blame rather than working with Congress to find common ground and create a solution right up to the March 1 deadline, McKinley said.

“Now, he’s asked for a meeting with House and Senate leadership after the deadline,” he said. “Why wasn’t this done earlier?”

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Thursday’s vote in the Senate was “deeply disappointing.”

“West Virginians expect more out of Washington, and they deserve more than sloppy, unnecessary cuts that could cost jobs and services,” he said. “I voted for a responsible bill to stop these across-the-board cuts from happening this year.

“The bill would have replaced them with smart, targeted spending reductions that close corporate tax loopholes and stop wasteful subsidies while also protecting families just trying to get by. Regrettably, this balanced proposal didn’t pass,” Rockefeller said.

He is still hopeful both sides will come together and reach a compromise.

“While the full effects won’t be felt immediately, the collective impact will hurt our economy, families, and businesses – and that just shouldn’t be an option,” Rockefeller said.