SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Rob Bishop said Monday that Utah's defense workers could see a pay cut under the automatic cuts in military spending set to take effect unless Congress acts.
The Republican congressman, who delivered his annual report to the Utah House and Senate, said workers who maintain planes at Hill Air Force Base and other key jobs could see a 20 percent drop in their take-home pay under the so-called sequestration cuts.
"It's a hit they cannot afford to take," Bishop said, and one that will hurt the nation's defense. For the first time in decades, new weapons systems are not being developed, making maintenance of existing systems "extremely crucial."
Even though Hill Air Force Base has a variety of needed programs, he said, the state's largest employer may be at risk as Congress looks to reduce spending.
"We may be forced to make some stupid decisions," he said.
Bishop said he opposes another Base Realignment and Closure Commission convening but told lawmakers they should be prepared with answers and solutions before the federal government gets to that point.
On fiscal issues, Bishop said, it's not so much a Democrat-Republican stalemate as it is a House-Senate stalemate, facetiously adding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., isn't the roadblock.
Congress faces a March 1 deadline to come up with an alternative to the massive budget cuts that were agreed to by Congress and the White House last year in the hopes the threat of sequestration would spur a less severe deal on the budget.
Last year, Utah lawmakers passed bills calling for the federal government to relinquish control of about 30 million acres of public land to the state by Dec. 31, 2014. Bishop called it the right approach and said that it will take a long time to change attitudes in Washington, but that things moving forward properly.
"The West," he said, "does not need to be protected from itself."