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Hirono: Threatened federal spending cuts could ‘devastate’ Hawaii

The looming threat of sequestration — across-the-board cuts in federal spending — could have a “devastating” impact on Hawaii’s economy, Sen. Mazie Hirono said Monday morning.

She predicted about $200 million in cuts to defense contracts here, 11,000 lost jobs, another 18,000 Department of Defense employees potentially put on furlough, the loss of air traffic controllers, up to 2,200 health care workers whose jobs could be jeopardized by Medicare cuts and up to 16,000 students, from preschool through college, who could be hurt by reduced funding.

“Clearly this is not the way to go,” Hirono said, adding that Republicans in Congress are “shrugging their shoulders.”

“Some of them would say, let’s have sequestration. It’s poor business, poor budgeting and poor governance,” she said.

Hirono could not provide specifics on how the cuts may affect Pohakuloa Training Area, but she reiterated the across-the-board cuts would hit every agency, department and program that has federal funding.

She also could not say what an acceptable level of program cuts in Hawaii would be.

She noted a $1.7 trillion cut to the federal budget over the next decade would include cuts to Hawaii, and that budget reduction had already been approved. She also couldn’t provide specifics on how defense contracts would be affected, except to note the military expected to see a 10 percent cut to the more than $2 billion in such contracts.

Hirono said she had not yet seen any federal departments’ proposals to implement the sequestration cuts.

The senator said she would like to see the government take a more “balanced” approach to the situation. She said she would focus on generating more tax revenue, rather than looking for more spending cuts.

“Let’s close some major tax loopholes to get there,” Hirono said, including “billions to Big Oil. We also encourage corporations to send jobs overseas.”

She said she supports enacting “The Buffett Rule,” a tax plan President Barack Obama proposed in 2011 that aims to equalize the percentage of taxes paid across income brackets.

Enacting those changes could generate the revenue needed to avoid the sequestration cuts, she said.

Education services — from Head Start programs to grants for Native Hawaiian students pursuing higher education — would be cut, Hirono said. Job training programs could be hit as well, with up to 8,800 people losing access to those programs.

The cuts are set to take effect March 1.