Fiscal cliff, will Grand feel it?
Ryan Summerlin December 31, 2012
Local agencies on the federal payroll are keeping tight-lipped about what dropping off the “cliff” might look like in Grand County.
Various reports about the so-called fiscal cliff say it could mean deep and dramatic cuts for many government programs, as well as tax hikes on Americans that could plunge the economy back into a recession if stop-gaps, concessions and negotiations are not successful on Capitol Hill.
There’s hope Congress will act to change laws retroactively after the deadline, and for this reason, it seems, agencies on the local level are not commenting how the fiscal trap could affect them.
“There won’t be any immediate Jan. 2 furloughs or anything like that,” said Reid Armstrong, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service Sulphur District of the Arapaho National Forest, based in Granby.
“We don’t expect operations to change dramatically, and we’re not speculating beyond that,” she said.
About 15 percent of the working population of Grand County works for some form of government, according to the most recent tally of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
A major crisis with the federal budget would cause a trickle-down effect, reaching all the way to the local level, with many government programs supported by federal dollars such as social services, road and bridge projects, law enforcement, home health, public health, water distribution, education and others.
Roughly 150 full-time workers who live in Grand County work directly for the federal government, in agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Services, Rocky Mountain National Park, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Land Management, according to information from 2009-2011 from the Colorado Department of Labor. That number can increase during the summer season, when seasonal employees come aboard.
Rocky Mountain National Park alone employs roughly 23 people from Grand County.
“Should sequestration occur, we do not expect our day-to-day operations to change dramatically or immediately after Jan. 1,” said Park spokesperson Kyle Patterson. “Should we go over the ‘cliff’ in January, the Park will still be open as the ‘cliff’ would be a reduction in funding not an absence of funding – which has resulted in government shut-downs in the past. So park operation will continue on Jan. 1 as planned,” she said.
At the BLM Kremmling office, which employs about 25 people, also there are “no projections,” according to Public Affairs Specialist David Boyd.
Besides the possible cuts in federal support of county programs, one factor Grand County government’s Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran thinks about, like all employers in Grand County, is how payroll taxes will be calculated if the U.S. government falls off the cliff. As of Dec. 31, that still remains an unknown.
“We’re waiting like everybody else, hoping that logic prevails,” she said.