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Killeen, Fort Hood Brace for Cutbacks

The Fort Hood trial of Major Nidal Hasan continues today. Hasan is accused of murdering 12 army personnel and one civilian in a shooting rampage last November.
KUT News
The Fort Hood trial of Major Nidal Hasan continues today. Hasan is accused of murdering 12 army personnel and one civilian in a shooting rampage last November.

The automatic federal spending cuts set to take effect tomorrow could have a big impact on Texas. Specifically, cuts to army bases could cost the state’s economy nearly $2.5 billion.

For many people in Killeen, next to Fort Hood, the spending cuts are just abstract numbers. For Cheryl Eliano, president of the Fort Hood branch of the American Federation of Government Employees, they’re all too real.

“We’ll only be working 32 hours versus 40-hour weeks,” Eliano said. “That means two days out of a pay period you will not get paid.”

Eliano’s union represents 6,000 civilians working at Fort Hood. They’re firefighters, police officers, administrators and health care workers. If the sequester goes ahead, they lose 22 work days between April and September. And Eliano says there’s no lack of work to do.

“If you didn’t need five people in the office Monday through Friday, you wouldn’t have five people in the office Monday through Friday,” she said. “We’re already working under-strength as it is.”

Under the sequester, the Pentagon would cut $46 billion over the next seven months. Fort Hood would cut $200 million, furloughing about 5,000 civilian employees.

“There will be some impact on operations and training, but the larger impact is on those individuals and their loss of pay,” said Fort Hood spokesman Chris Haug. If the sequester comes to pass, he said, some building projects will be put on hold, “critical renovation projects to the barracks, like the Fort Hood Child Development Center, and some of the motor pools.”

The Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce is in a restored former train station at the edge of downtown Killeen. The city, thanks in large part to military jobs at Fort Hood, has seen considerable growth over the past decade.

“We grew 45 percent over the last 10 years, from 2000 to 2010, in terms of population,” said chamber President John Crutchfield. “We expect to probably do that again over the next 10 years.”

Crutchfield says the city will take whatever happens next in stride. “As a community, we don’t overreact a great deal,” he said. “We deal with it as it comes.”

For local businesses, the cuts may be a mixed bag. “Seen lots of ups and downs, but we’ve had a good run for a long time,” said Jimmy Parker, who has run the 195 Lumber Co. for years. “And it’s because of the military base being right out here. And it does affect us. If you don’t think it does, it affects us all the way from San Antone to Dallas.”

Over at 19th Hole Pawn and Billiards, manager Teresa Ortiz says she might actually see more business.

“We’re definitely, probably going to be loaning a lot more money, which I’m ready for,” Ortiz said.

If the sequester does happen, the full effects may not be felt for months.

But for Eliano, whose members are going on their third year of frozen wages, it’s just one more concession her lowest-wage earners have to make.

“Who’s going to suffer?” she said. “It’s not the senior people. It’s the little guys going to suffer. And that’s who’s going to feel the pain of the furlough, more than anyone else.”

Congress has until midnight tonight to find a way to head off or change the cuts before they go into effect.

I'm a freelance writer for the Austin American Statesman and others.
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