By MICHAEL VIRTANEN
The Associated Press
ALBANY -- The federal budget fight forcing temporary across-the-board spending cuts will affect individual New Yorkers including students and seniors but won't have as big of an overall impact on state government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
The dispute, known as the sequester, is between Democratic President Barack Obama, who wants to combine some spending cuts with tax hikes for the rich, and the Republican-led House that has ruled out tax hikes.
"The sequester discussion has already affected New Yorkers in my opinion," Cuomo said before the cuts began on Friday. "The brinksmanship of government I don't think is the way to do business. ... It's destabilizing. It creates anxiety. And we want government to do the exact opposite."
The White House bets that once the public begins to experience the effects of the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts, the pain will be unbearable enough to force lawmakers to reconsider and negotiate. Much of the impact won't be felt for weeks or months; others, like possible teacher layoffs, wouldn't happen until the new school year in the fall.
"It'll have some effect on the state government but more would be about people, and people losing assistance who need it, students, seniors, et cetera," Cuomo said.
Among some of the potential effects in New York:
-- About 12,000 civilians who work for the Department of Defense would be furloughed.
-- Funding for the operation of Army bases would be cut $108 million.
-- Primary and secondary schools would lose about $42.7 million, putting around 590 teacher and aide jobs at risk.
-- Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for about 4,300 children.
-- About $12.9 million would be cut for clean water and air quality, as to prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste.
-- About $1 million in cuts to respond to public health threats including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events.
-- About $5.7 million to prevent and treat substance abuse.
-- Almost $1.5 million for meals to senior citizens.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said local governments are already struggling and also criticized the political gridlock.
"Continued uncertainty over sequestration only heightens the threat to health care, education, transportation and other essential services," he said. "New York State faces the loss of billions of dollars in federal aid over the next few years if Congress fails to reach an agreement to avoid draconian cuts."
The comptroller's office said it isn't clear what the immediate impact would be on federal payments to the state.
Officials were waiting to see how potential cuts in border agents would play out at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, one of the busiest crossings along the U.S.-Canadian border and a favorite of Canadians headed to take advantage of a favorable exchange rate at western New York's shopping malls.
"We certainly think it could be an issue. It's too early to tell how it's going to impact border operations," said Matthew Davison, spokesman for the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, which operates the bridge. "The flow of traffic is impacted by the number of (inspection) booths that are open."
The Peace Bridge ranks second in passenger traffic and third in commercial truck traffic among all northern border crossings, handling about 6 million vehicles each year. An estimated $40 billion in trade crosses the span annually.
Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, warned in a speech on the House floor that sequestration could also hurt the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, Niagara County's largest employer. It would force the Air Force to delay construction of a $6.1 million flight simulator and would require 2,300 Air Force civilians across the state to be furloughed, resulting in more than $17 million in lost wages, he said.