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Monday, January 28, 2013 - 1:12pm

Defense Cuts Could Cost Middle Ga. $83 Mil

Middle Georgia could face an almost immediate $83 million hit to its economy if automatic Pentagon budget cuts take effect March 1, according to a new estimate from the non-profit 21st Century Partnership, which advocates for Robins Air Force Base.

Congress forged a permanent deal on tax rates after the New Year’s Day “fiscal cliff” deadline passed, but merely delayed 10 percent defense and discretionary spending cuts known as “sequestration” by two months.

Service member salaries would be protected if the cuts occurred as scheduled, but civilian employees could have their livelihoods threatened almost immediately. Robins is therefore particularly vulnerable, due to its unusually high ratio of civilian to uniformed personnel.

If lawmakers fail to make an alternative compromise on spending, Air Force officials warn civilian employees could be furloughed up to 22 days in 2013, according to 21st Century Partnership CEO retired Gen. Robert McMahon.

McMahon, speaking Monday to a gathering of Middle Georgia community leaders in Warner Robins, extrapolated what that would mean for the local economy.

The average civilian worker making $65,000 annually would lose about $5,525 in pay, McMahon said. Multiplying that by 15,000 – the approximate number of civilian employees on-base – McMahon concluded the overall economic loss would be nearly $83 million.

The stark math left Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mike Dyer momentarily speechless.

“This is, um … boy this is certainly problematic for our community,” Dyer said. “You know I hope people can get their act together up in Washington D.C. and we can avoid this.”

Based on recent experience, Dyer said he’s not optimistic.

McMahon called on social service providers to prepare for sudden losses of employment and income. Shannon Harvey, CEO of River Edge Behavioral Health Center in Macon, said her organization is getting ready.

“We’re going to disseminate some resources about resilience and problem solving in stressful times,” Harvey said, “as well as disseminate information about how people can seek services if they choose to.”

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