TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday called on leaders of Congress to stop potential federal budget cuts that he said would be devastating to Florida’s fragile economy.
Scott sent a letter that warned that as many as 39,000 jobs could be lost in the Sunshine State next year if billions in automatic cuts in national defense spending take effect in January. The cuts are part of a deficit-reduction plan approved last year by Congress.
The decision by Scott to wade into the fray over budget cuts is a bit of change since he has been a fierce critic of federal spending in the past.
Scott rejected more than $2 billion in money for high-speed rail and he has defended cutting public jobs in state and local government as a way to help the economy.
“While I agree with many Americans that the federal government must reduce spending, reduce taxes and create an environment conducive to private sector job growth, I urge you to prioritize the safety and security of our nation and the strength of our economy,” Scott wrote.
The governor urged both House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to “replace the impending and disastrous defense cuts” with cuts in other programs.
Scott’s only suggestion on where to cut was to repeal the federal health care overhaul although the Congressional Budget Office recently said the overhaul would shrink rather than increase America’s huge federal deficits over the next decade.
In his letter, Scott noted that Florida is home to 20 military installations and said that nearly 700,000 direct and indirect jobs are defense related. He suggested that the cuts would not only harm the state’s economy — where unemployment is now 8.6 percent — but could “jeopardize the safety of Floridians.”
The cuts have become a political flashpoint recently.
GOP senators late last month visited presidential election battleground states to warn about the cuts even though Congress previously endorsed the reductions.
A day before Scott’s letter was sent Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the White House’s acting budget chief, Jeff Zients, outlined to Congress the effect on defense and domestic programs if $110 billion in across-the-board reductions begin on Jan. 2.
It appears unlikely that Congress will act on the reductions before the November election. Democrats insist any plan to spare the military include tax increases on high-wage earners while Republicans reject any plan that calls for higher taxes.
In his appearance earlier this week, Carter said military personnel would be exempt from the automatic cuts. But he said every other military account would be affected, from weapons to the number of hours commissaries operate to potential furloughs.
The Labor Department on Monday stated that federal contractors do not have to warn their employees about potential layoffs from the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts due to kick in Jan. 2. The guidance letter said it would be “inappropriate” for employers to send such warnings because it is still speculative if and where the cuts might occur.
The White House told agency officials Tuesday to “continue normal spending and operations” since more than five months remain for Congress to act to avert the automatic cuts.
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