Alexandria City Council stares down sequestration threat

Alexandria City Council stares down sequestration threat

By Derrick Perkins

The threat of looming cutbacks in federal spending consuming Washington’s elite since the election touched down in Alexandria Tuesday evening.

During the budget standoff a little more than a year ago — and the subsequent downgrading of the nation’s triple-A bond rating by Standard and Poor’s — officials reiterated the Port City’s independence from political gamesmanship in Washington, but they took on a more dire tone during a city council meeting Tuesday evening.

“It’s going to be severe pains, the reality is that [sequestration] is eliminating and slashing millions of dollars for the budget, which affects us regionally and locally,” said Mayor Bill Euille. “There can be a deal, there can be delay or there can be a deadlock. We’ve already dealt with the deadlock so let’s hope it will be a deal or a delay.”

Known as sequestration or the fiscal cliff, the deep cuts into federal spending were borne out of negotiations between congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama to lift the credit limit in summer 2011. If a deal is not reached in Washington before January, municipalities across the country will deal with curtailed domestic and military spending when the new year rolls around.

Officials estimated the across-the-board reduction in federal spending would cost 2.14 million jobs nationwide. Alexandria, home to agencies like the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a bevy of federal employees and contractors dependent on government work, would not be spared, officials warned.

Vice Mayor Kerry Donley pointed his finger directly at Congress for the loss of jobs and spending in the region and city. The city’s already weathered belt-tightening during the recession, he said.

“We have also bitten the bullet and made some tough decisions about increased revenue. … It has an adverse impact on the quality of life our citizens deserve,” Donley said. “But the federal government has not been doing their job, in particular Congress, who have almost become the hallmark of inaction.”

It’s the second time Alexandria has suffered because of a Washington standoff in recent years. The city’s credit rating, though still a triple-A, earned a “negative outlook” from Moody’s after 2011’s federal budget fight.

But local economic indicators show the city moving in a better direction in the short term. Alexandria’s unemployment rate fell to 4.4 percent in September while home sales are up, as are requests for business licenses.

“We’ve got a lot of stresses on the city’s future but I do drive around the city and I see signs of vitality, of willingness by people to invest risk capital in this city, to grow and expand and build, establish new businesses,” said City Councilor David Speck. “People who put risk capital at work or open new businesses are not charities; they’re here because they think there is an opportunity. …  I’m feeling pretty good about the way this city is coming out of the recession.”