CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Looming federal budget cuts would lead to layoffs in the West Virginia National Guard, cutbacks in the state's National Parks properties and could even lead to hang-ups in the federal court system.
Unless Congress acts fast, the federal budget automatically will be cut by $85 billion this Friday as part of a sequestration measure passed by federal lawmakers in 2011.
Congress approved the across-the-board cuts as an incentive to coming up with a better, smarter budget. So far, those efforts have failed.
West Virginia National Guard spokesman Lt. David Lester said sequestration cuts would immediately force the Guard to lay off 55 employees around the state, mostly from its staff of aircraft technicians.
"We've got guys, we'll be able to cover the slack. But anytime you lose maintenance positions like that...it's going to have an effect," Lester said.
He said cuts would affect the Guard's ability to respond to state emergencies.
"While our pay comes from the state, much of our equipment is bought and maintained with federal funding. So if that is cut, then we will have less resources to respond with ready and reliable equipment for emergencies across the state," he said.
In addition to layoffs, Lester estimates sequestration would cause more than 900 Guardsmen to be furloughed. The cutbacks would begin in mid-April, following a 45-day notification period. Affected employees would work four-day workweeks for 22 weeks.
The Guard also would institute a hiring freeze if sequester-related cuts go into effect. In all, the moves would save the Guard about $30 million, Lester said.
"It's a direct effect on a lot of technicians and their families. We are hopeful there will be resolution in Congress, but we're prepared as an organization to follow the law that we have to," he said.
U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers, chief justice for the U.S. District Court's Southern District of West Virginia, said budget cuts would not immediately affect the state's federal courts. Prolonged cuts could interrupt the day-to-day workings of the courts, however.
Chambers said the court has been preparing for the possibility of sequestration cuts for months. Administrators have tried to cut back on spending and avoid filling some open positions.
He said the courts should be able to operate without significant interruption, at least temporarily, if Congress misses its deadline.
"We're probably good for a few months, but if this goes on much longer or these cuts get much deeper, it will begin to have an impact on the court system across the country," Chambers said.
"If you have deep cuts...we'll have trouble paying for juries. It may start affecting our ability to supervise people on probation. It could, over time, complicate having hearings and proceedings in court."
Chambers said the country's bigger, busier and more expensive courts likely would feel those effects sooner than West Virginia.
Tim Goode, chief deputy for the U.S. Marshal's southern West Virginia district, said sequester-related cuts would lead to furloughs in the office.
Goode said he is not sure how significant the furloughs would be, but everyone from U.S. Marshal John Foster down to the office staff would be subject to the forced time off.
That could cause problems for the marshals' warrant sweeps and sex offender investigations. Goode said the marshals' primary responsibility is protecting federal courts and transporting prisoners to and from court, deputies likely will be pulled from warrant or sex offender duty to cover the courthouses.
"Since everyone will have to have the same number of days off, we'll set up a schedule so we have some deputies off while other deputies are working," he said.