Sequester at Home: Florida Could Lose Blue Angels Shows, Medicare Payments
Starting today, The Note will track how automatic budget cuts associated with the so-called sequester are hurting Americans at home. This story of the effects on one community is part of that series.
If nothing is done to avert "sequester" cuts, air-show fans can wave bye-bye to the Blue Angels.
The Navy's demonstration air team plans to cancel the 28 performances it has scheduled between April 1 and Sept. 30 if the cuts go into effect as planned at midnight tonight and revenue is not somehow supplemented.
It's just one of the many sacrifices the Defense Department plans to make if its budget suffers the across-the-board cuts prescribed in the sequestration bill signed into law in August 2011.
Florida State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said the cancelled shows would mean the loss of what he called his constituents' "civic religion."
"If someone you don't know gets furloughed from a job at a military base, that's something you read about in the newspaper. But if the Blue Angels are grounded, that's a highly visible symbol of government dysfunction," Gaetz said today.
A performance in Indiana slated for June has already been cut, thanks to the sequester, but that was the choice of the organizers, not the Navy, according to Blue Angels Public Affairs Officer Lt. Kathryn Kelly.
The next show on the chopping block would be the April 6-7 Airfest performance at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.
Terry Montrose, deputy chief of public affairs for Macdill Air Force Base, said if that performance is cancelled, the whole air show will be shut down, a true disappointment for the Tampa community.
"I'm sure it would be a big blow to [Tampa residents], because it's one of the largest events in Tampa every year or every other year," Montrose said.
Montrose said the base is "hoping for a Hail Mary" to save the show.
But Kelly of the Blue Angels said the squadron's fate is not sealed just yet. If Congress passes a full budget, another continuing resolution or an increase to the Navy's transfer authority, more shows could be restored.
Sen. Gaetz pointed out that losing the Blue Angels wouldn't be the worst of the sequester's effects in the Sunshine State.
"As important as they are and as symbolic as they are, [the Blue Angels] aren't as important as making sure that someone in a nursing home gets care or someone in aerospace gets a paycheck," he said. "But, obviously, sometimes it's the symbols that resonate with people and bring the issue home."
The tourism, higher education, civilian defense contractor and hospital industries in Florida would all take hits as the cuts filter down, according to Chris McCarty, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
In 2011, 17.6 percent of Florida's population was eligible for Medicare, 4.3 points higher than the national average. That means scaling back Medicare payments to hospitals will disproportionately affect the health care industry in that state, according to Gaetz.
"When Medicare catches a cold," he said, "Florida hospitals get pneumonia."