Our government leaders have once again kicked the proverbial can down the road, failing to find the middle ground needed to address tough fiscal issues plaguing our country– stagnant economy; national debt of more than $16 trillion; and a $1 trillion annual deficit that exceeds revenue.
Despite having more than 16 months in which to reach consensus, the end of 2012 brought a fierce partisan battle surrounding not only the permanent extension of the Bush Administration tax cuts, but also a heated debate over how to reduce the deficit and avoid sequester.
Ultimately, most of the Bush tax cuts were permanently extended, taxes were raised on upper income earners as well as most Americans, and sequestration was delayed until March 1, 2013. However, complicating matters is that the U.S. once again reached its debt limit on December 31, 2012 and Congress must raise it in the next few months, least we default on our debt obligations and see a government shut-down.
Undoubtedly, the stage is set for a turbulent legislative beginning to 2013.
Democrats have stated they will not be held hostage by attempts to cuts spending as a tradeoff for raising the debt limit and Republicans have vowed that they will not accept more tax increases and are demanding significant spending cuts.
Obviously, we all realize the implication this situation may have on our personal financial lives, but there are also implications for park and recreation programs that receive federal funding.
- If the sequester takes effect on March 1, the across-the-board cuts will make less funding available for all programs, including those that provide federal funding for park and recreation agencies.
- If the sequester does not take effect, we are still very likely to see cuts to our programs because both parties agree that spending needs to be curtailed. The swirling debate right now is over reduction of spending on mandatory entitlement programs (i.e., Social Security, Medicare, etc.). Any reduction which is not achieved through a reduction in entitlement programs will cause legislators to look to “discretionary” government spending, which includes park and recreation programs, to make up the difference.
A likely scenario is a combination of discretionary cuts and tax increases to generate “revenues.”
The lingering question is whether Congress will put each and every federal program under the microscope and make cuts on an individual programmatic basis, a heavy lift for a short two month period, or whether it will implement across the board agency cuts at a level which is smaller than that proposed by the sequester.
The danger of programmatic cuts is that Congress could zero-out programs such as LWCF or place a spending cap on annual funding. Across-the-board agency cuts, on the other hand, provide more opportunity to influence funding through the appropriations process; although, there will be less overall funding available and competition will be fierce.
This issue will consume the majority of time and attention during the first few months of this year and will impact the next 10 years of funding for park and recreation programs.
What can park and recreation professionals and citizen supporters do to impress upon elected officials that park and recreation agencies are more than just a place where kids gather to play kick the can?
Stacey Pine is NRPA’s Vice President of Government Affairs.