Scott seeks exemption for National Guard furlough
Published: Monday, July 8, 2013 at 7:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 8, 2013 at 7:51 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — With nearly 1,000 employees of the Florida National Guard being forced to take a furlough over the next three months, Gov. Rick Scott and two other Gulf Coast Republican governors on Monday asked President Barack Obama to exempt military technicians from the temporary layoffs.
Joined by Louisiana's Bobby Jindal and Mississippi's Phil Bryant, Scott said the furlough — which is part of a federal budget cut approved by Obama and congressional leaders — "hits us at a historically inopportune time as evidenced by many years of hurricanes, wildfires and flooding in our states from May through June."
With newly formed Tropical Storm Chantal augmenting his argument, Scott has said that the National Guard furloughs could put Florida at greater risk as the state moves toward the peak of a hurricane season that is forecast to be busier than usual. Scott contends the downtime could result in less training time, equipment maintenance and other preparedness activities for the military unit that serves a critical role in state emergencies.
Chantal is forecast to be off Florida's east coast by Saturday.
"We understand there are mechanisms to recall our military first responders during emergencies; however they will be recalled to respond with equipment readiness that will be increasingly degraded," the governors said in their joint letter.
"We estimate we will require several additional days to allow our forces to perform administrative, maintenance and training tasks to prepare units to properly respond," the governors added.
The Florida National Guard has estimated the furloughs — which must be taken between now and Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year — will impact 993 military technicians and civilian employees who work for the Florida National Guard. The employees will lose a day of pay each week up to 22 weeks, resulting in a pay cut of some 20 percent.
The technicians and civilian employees of the Department of Defense help the Florida National Guard maintain equipment and facilities, provide medical support, help with contracting and financial management in addition to other duties.
The furloughs will affect Florida National Guard employees in some 55 communities, and officials said the absence of the workers and technicians will lead to a reduction in facilities maintenance, flying time, equipment readiness and the ability to refurbish equipment used in combat deployments.
The issue of the furloughs has become a political food fight, with both parties taking shots at each other over the dilemma.
Heading into the July 4th holiday, Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry chided Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for having "done nothing to restore sequestration (budget) cuts that affect the National Guard and its readiness for emergency response efforts in Florida."
In a letter to Scott last month, Nelson said he and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio "both agree nothing can be changed right now with only a few months left in this fiscal year."
"Instead, you could be enormously helpful by urging some of the Florida Republican members of Congress to get rid of the sequester by exploring with us more sensible and strategic ways to reduce the budget for the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1," Nelson wrote.
Nelson also suggested in the event of an emergency, such as a hurricane, Scott could deploy the National Guard, including the furloughed members, and then seek a full reimbursement from the federal government.
Bryan Koon, head of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, said the prospect of the federal government paying the entire cost of the emergency deployment "would most likely not occur," based on the history of federal reimbursements for emergencies.
Koon's statement was backed up by an independent analysis by Politifact Florida, which called Nelson's claim "mostly false," pointing out federal reimbursements ranged from 75 to 80 percent for nine federal emergencies since 2007.
The Democrats are slamming Republicans for not resolving the budget cuts.
David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said if Scott blames Washington for the National Guard furloughs "he'll have to point the finger at his own party, including Congressmen Steve Southerland and Bill Young who both repeatedly voted against replacing sequester with a balanced approach."
The DCCC is holding a press conference today to further criticize Young.
Meanwhile, Scott took to the airwaves early Monday to continue to warn about the impact of the furloughs and Florida's hurricane season.
"The problem is you're losing training time, you're losing preparation time," Scott told WOKV radio in Jacksonville. "When will the National Guard make the decision that we stop the furloughs? Right after the hurricane hits?"
Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.
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