WASHINGTON - The automatic across the board federal budget cuts that were never supposed to happen kick in a week from today and airports in Minnesota are among the first to learn about how the government plans to handle the potential disruptions.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that air traffic control facilities at a series of small airports in Minnesota could be closed if the agency is required to cut $600 million from this year's budget.
The agency lists air traffic control at St. Cloud Regional Airport, Anoka County-Blaine Airport, Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie and Crystal Tower in Crystal as being targeted for closure if the automatic budget cuts known as sequester begin on March 1. Additionally, the FAA could end overnight air traffic control at the Duluth Airport.
In an appearance before the White House press corps Friday, outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the agency would likely have to furlough all of its nearly 47,000 employees for one day a pay period until the end of September in order for the agency to meet its share of the $85 billion in cuts that will affect large swaths of the federal government.
"Obviously, as always, safety is our top priority, and we will never allow the amount of air travel we can handle safely to take off and land, which means travelers should expect delays," said LaHood.
LaHood said the closures would not happen right away but would probably begin around April 1, giving Congress and the White House some breathing room to work out a potential deal.
These cuts are the result of two years of fiscal firefights between Republicans in the U.S. House and the Obama Administration. The sequester mechanism was created after Republicans refused to permit an increase in the nation's borrowing limit in mid-2011 without deep spending cuts. Both parties hoped the pain of the sequester, which affects both domestic and defense programs, would force a negotiated settlement though that hasn't happened.