SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch told Utah lawmakers Wednesday that he believes the automatic cuts to the federal budget known as sequestration won't be stopped by Congress.
“Sequestration is going to be a difficult thing for us,” Hatch said in his annual report to the state Legislature, offering some details about what the automatic budget cuts would mean to Hill Air Force Base.
More than 63 percent of the base employees are civilians, the senator said, and as many as 11,100 of those civilian workers could be furloughed for 72 days starting April 1, while military personnel are exempt from the cuts.
The furloughs would result in an 11.5 percent cut to the average annual salary for a civilian employee, nearly $7,800, Hatch said. That would add up to a loss of more than $86 million in civilian pay, he said, warning also of the impact on weapons systems maintenance.
“This is a harsh, worst-case scenario,” Hatch told the House, noting he wanted to let the lawmakers know just “how bad it could be” as a warning even though he suggested the cuts would not be allowed to get to that point.
Some $85 billion is set to be slashed from this year's federal budget on March 1 unless Congress and President Barack Obama can reach agreement on bringing federal spending under control.
The cuts were set in motion as part of the ongoing debate over the budget that also led to a deal raising some taxes on New Year's Day to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
Still, Hatch said, sequestration may be the only way to deal with the budget, even though defense spending would be hit especially hard.
“I’m for sequestration. I just want you to be aware that it’s not a simple matter,” he said. “If we don’t do something about spending in this country, the greatest country in the world is going to have a lot of trouble.”
Hatch praised the Legislature for its efforts at preparing for federal budget cuts but said that might not be enough.
“We’ve got to be prepared,” he said. “It may be more serious than we think.”
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said later that the state budget stands to lose $40 million in federal funds if sequestration takes place. Valentine said those funds would affect transportation planning, education, and health and human services.
Those departments are being asked to anticipate those cuts.
Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said even with the cuts, sequestration may be the way to go "if it's what we need to get some fiscal responsibility in the federal government."
Contributing: Dennis Romboy