Automatic defense cuts could cost Washington state big

State would lose $461 million if Army budget hit; 11,500 jobs would be affected

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Forced Army budget cuts would cost Washington state $461 million this year unless Congress strikes a deal to prevent them by March 1, according to an Army report obtained by The News Tribune.

Washington is one of the states with the most to lose to Army cuts under the so-called budget sequester because it's the home of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, one of the Defense Department's largest installations.

About 9,500 Army civilian employees would be compelled to take furloughs if the budget cuts take place. Another 2,000 contractors would lose work because of decreased construction or reduced operations on Army sites.

USA Today first reported on the Army sequestration document.

Texas would take the largest hit, losing $2.4 billion. It's home to Fort Hood, Fort Bliss and Brooke Army Medical Center.

The cuts in the Evergreen State are centered on Pierce County, which contains Lewis-McChord and the Washington National Guard headquarters of Camp Murray.

Lewis-McChord would see a $341 million spending reduction. The Washington National Guard and local Army Reserves would lose another $21 million.

Forced furloughs would cost $57 million in take-home pay from Army civilian employees. The Army also would cancel some $201 million in planned construction projects.

Lewis-McChord has not held a forum for civilian employees to ask questions about the cuts. It's waiting for more definitive information, said base spokesman Joe Piek.

"We're paying very close attention to it," he said.

Senior Army officers have been urging Congress to act, contending that the forced cuts would cause a reduction in combat readiness and possibly extend the deployments of troops in Afghanistan.

Local lawmakers say they're pushing for a compromise.

"Without a doubt, we need to take action to reduce the federal debt and deficit, but that cannot and should not be done through sequestration. Our economy is still fragile, too fragile to absorb such a blow, and our national security is too important," Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, said last week at a hearing for the House Armed Services Committee. He is the committee's ranking minority member.