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Dollars and sense

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Personnel at Fort Drum had to start getting used to reduced staff levels of civilian employees this week.

Furloughs began for about 1,800 workers at the facility. Most employees will have one day off a week for the next 11 weeks.

And after that, who knows? These furloughs are part of the automatic budget cuts resulting from Congress’s inability last year to come to an agreement on spending cuts. The sequester was designed to be so painful for all involved that only fools would fail to work out a deal.

The good news is that this fiscal year ends Sept. 30. There is hope that spending for civilian employees at Fort Drum may be restored to its previous level.

The bad news is that the fools on Capitol Hill showed up last year and refused to find common ground and avoid the draconian cuts that have been taking place. What’s to stop our federal legislators from being just as pig-headed the next time this budget fight heats up?

This financial uncertainty will continue to plague governmental entities like Fort Drum for the foreseeable future. How are those in charge supposed to plan crucial operations if they don’t know how long their current level of funding will last?

Thankfully, law enforcement personnel as well as fire and emergency workers at Fort Drum were exempt from the automatic cuts. Child-care workers are paid from non-appropriated sources, so they too won’t have to take any furloughs.

Fort Drum personnel are undoubtedly grateful for these modest highlights. But they still face many challenges in continuing to provide the highest level of service possible to our country as funding questions loom over their civilian workers.

The political disagreements over how to reduce government spending are not at all surprising. Public officials have bickered over budget issues since our founding.

We expect divisions to exist. This tension leads to the process of give and take that drives our system. We wouldn’t be who we are as a society without it.

But at some point, decisions must be made. Reducing our national debt will demand very unpleasant choices.

This will require members of Congress to reach an agreement on budget issues, and nothing should be off the table. Entitlements, domestic programs and military spending all must be impacted.

While this is what’s happening under the process of sequester, we should be able to rely on our federal representatives to make these decisions themselves. They shouldn’t have to devise a doomsday scenario that compels them to act out of fear of the pending political backlash.

Spending cuts need to be done intelligently and with a long-range purpose. The sequester was nothing but a dare, and lawmakers called their own bluff. They need to decide on spending priorities and implement cuts that make sense.

If legislators opt to make military cuts that end up reducing civilian staff levels permanently, military personnel will be able to adjust for this into the future. But to have furloughs for 11 weeks with big question marks after that is ridiculous.

Government funding will always have uncertainties, so we’re not asking for civilian staffing levels that never change. But as we approach the middle of July, it’s inexcusable that our local military leaders have to worry about how much money they’ll have this October.

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