LITTLE ROCK — Expressing frustration with Congress, Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith and the state Forestry Commission face deep federal budget cuts because of a special panel's failure to agree on deficit-reduction plan.
LITTLE ROCK — Expressing frustration with Congress, Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith and the state Forestry Commission face deep federal budget cuts because of a special panel’s failure to agree on deficit-reduction plan.
“These (possible budget cuts) are the real life applications of the failure of Congress to solve the problem,” Beebe said.
The 12-member “super committee” created by Congress in July to close a deal to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years announced Monday that it had not reached an agreement.
Its failure is to trigger automatic cuts across government, including $450 billion in cuts to the Pentagon and Defense Departments, beginning in 2013.
On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. William D. Wofford, adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard met with members of the 188th Fighter Wing to discuss their concerns about possible defense cuts.
Beebe said Wednesday that defense cuts would hurt the state, especially the Fort Smith area already reeling from Whirlpool’s recent announcement the company would close its operations there, causing more than 1,000 workers to lose their jobs.
“The American people are just frustrated with Congress,“ Beebe said at the state Capitol. “This is the latest example of their inability to work together.
“The 188th is one of the folks that the Defense Department is looking at and Fort Smith has suffered enough,” Beebe said. “We’re going to try to convince the Army and the Department of Defense that the 188th is a really good investment.”
The governor said the unit is conveniently located near Fort Chaffee.
“So it’s cost-effective, and they are a bunch of good pilots,” he said.
The 188th, which was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2010, is slated for another Air Expeditionary Forces rotation to Afghanistan next year.
The 188th was home to a wing of F-16 fighter jets, known as the Fighting Falcons until 2005, when the Base Closure and Realignment Commission approved a plan to move the F-16s to the 144th Fighter Wing in California. In 2008, the 188th transitioned to the A-10 Thunderbolt II.
“We’ll try to do all we can,” Beebe said, “but this is the natural result of Congress’ inability to do anything.”
The governor also said he was worried about the Forestry Commission, which also faces a major reduction in federal funds under the automatic cuts.
“They have lost a lot of federal funding and some significant changes are going to have to occur,” Beebe said. “Whether it’s a post office, or whether it’s any of the other programs, it’s just the beginning. Apparently there are some things that are going to be significant.”
Forestry Commission Director John Shannon said his department is expecting to lose about $2 million in federal grants, much of which is used for general operations or provided to volunteer fire departments across the state.
Shannon said the loss of funds will amount to just under 10 percent of his department’s annual budget.
“Whether the super committee succeeded or failed, I think we ought to expect the federal grants to decline,” he said, adding he has no plans to ask the Legislature for money next year to make up the difference.
“We’re a relatively small agency and I think a lot bigger state agencies are going to also have to deal with reductions in federal grants,” he said. “We’re going to deal with it.”