Suburban Maryland officials said Tuesday it is the lack of certainty about looming federal budget cuts — how much? when? is anything safe? — that is driving them crazy.
“What we can’t survive is the uncertainty,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), at a news conference in Rockville to sound the alarm about the impending March 1 cuts, known as the sequester, and their impact across the Washington region.
“For us, like our surrounding jurisdictions, we depend on the federal government,” said Baker, whose suburban county of nearly 1 million includes more than 70,000 federal workers, many of whom commute around the region and spend money in neighboring jurisdictions.
Fellow executives Isiah Leggett (D-Montgomery) and Ken Ulman (D-Howard), as well as leaders of two Montgomery chambers of commerce urged their constituents and local businesses to send a clear message to Congress: reach an agreement now.
“This is about the moms and dads who will wake up in a couple of months, and not have a job,” said Ulman, whose community is home to thousands of workers employed by defense contractors, NASA, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and nearby Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.
Noting the specialized intelligence work done at Fort Meade, Ulman asked: “What planet are we living on that it would make sense to reduce the workforce of people who are working to prevent cyberhacking?”
Massive layoffs or furloughs would ripple across the regional economy, he said.
“They can’t eat at a restaurant, they can’t buy a car,” Ulman said. “This affects our economy throughout.”
Montgomery council president Nancy Navarro (D-Midcounty), said the lack of agreement in Congress on the sequester is also affecting businesses who might want to expand or relocate. “We have no idea what will occur, how many businesses are reevaluating if they want to come to Montgomery, stay in Montgomery or address that expansion that they are waiting for,” she said.
Beyond that, the uncertainty “affects the country as a whole, and how it is seen around the world, as not being as strong and decisive as we need to be in these uncertain times,” she said.
And despite signs of an economic upturn, the sequester, the lawmakers said, could undo the gains.
“The loss to our county of millions of dollars in revenue could plunge us back into a severe slowdown causing budget shortfalls and a stagnant economy. We can’t let that happen,” Leggett said.