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Fix the budget

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Casualties from the federal government’s sequestration continue to pile up.

Two of the latest victims are a local agency and one of the true wonders of the north country. Mandatory budget cuts have left funding for the former delayed and for the latter potentially denied.

Officials at WorkPlace, an employment center with sites in Watertown and Lowville, must wait more than two months to continue receiving federal funding to train people for new jobs. WorkPlace’s fiscal year started this month, but the U.S. government’s fiscal year does not begin until October.

The agency usually receives 25 percent of its annual funding from the federal government in the first quarter of its fiscal year, July through September. It then receives the other 75 percent in October.

But under the cuts resulting from the sequestration, WorkPlace received only 7 percent of its funding. The additional 93 percent won’t come until October.

WorkPlace pays qualifying employees 50 percent of the training wage to employees as a way to assist them in filling vacant positions. Funding can be offered by WorkPlace for up to $3,000, or 26 weeks, per employee during the training period.

Employees being trained may take courses at Jefferson Community College as well as the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Charles H. Bohlen Technical Center.

But now local businesses wishing to train new employees with WorkPlace’s help must wait until the fall to do so. Some of the educational programs have their enrollment in September, which won’t help prospective employees who must wait another month for their funding to come through.

As inconvenient as this is for WorkPlace, things could be worse. The level of federal funding that the employment agency is scheduled to receive in 2013 will not be affected by the sequestration, under the provisions of the Workforce Investment Act.

Lake Ontario may not fare as well under the mandatory budget cuts. A U.S. House of Representatives panel approved a measure this week to cut 80 percent of the funding directed to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, designed to improve environmental conditions in the Great Lakes.

The initiative begun by President Obama in 2009 was based on a list of priorities advocated several years earlier by then-President George W. Bush. The measure approved this week by the House Interior, Environmental and Related Agencies Subcommittee also would reduce funding to a low-interest loan program to local governments to enhance aging sewage treatment systems.

The sequestration came about because legislators on Capitol Hill in Washington last year could not decide on how to reduce the government’s debt. The measure imposed automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that would hurt everyone.

The plan was to make this option so vile that legislators would compromise when necessary to avoid the dreadful cuts. Compromises were not reached, and the sequestration went ahead.

And now we’re seeing companies with jobs to offer not able to train prospective employees when they need the help. In addition, a House bill threatens to gut efforts to continue cleaning the Great Lakes.

While the amount of the cuts is mandatory, there appears to be some wiggle room when it comes to where the cuts need to be made under sequestration. Legislators must get back to work to agree on the spending reductions necessary while funding vital services.

Filling vacant positions at companies looking to hire will increase tax revenues. And maintaining the work needed to improve the conditions of the Great Lakes is essential for everyone in the Midwest and Northeast portions of the country. Federal legislators must get past their petty differences and do their jobs by coming up with a sensible budget.

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