Federal cuts could wipe out local Workforce Center

Cut spending at all costs.

This has been the dominant theme of the U.S. Congress, and one echoed by Congressman Doug Lamborn during a recent town hall meeting in Woodland Park

But the cry for spending cuts could wipe out a key employment-assistance program heavily praised by local leaders, the Pikes Peak Workforce, which houses an office at the Aspen Mine Center in Cripple Creek and anothe smaller outlet in Woodland Park. The center features an active service for unemployed workers, people recently laid-off, the under-employed and spouses of military personnel, along with offering many training programs. And with a county that is now suffering from unemployment numbers exceeding the 11 percent level, the Pikes Peak Workforce has experienced an increase in regular clients in outlets in Teller and El Paso counties.

Newly-elected Teller County Commissioner Dave Paul, who serves on the Pikes Peak Workforce Investment board, recently relayed his first official dose of bad news. According to Paul, a new proposed House bill, calling for $100 billion in domestic program cuts, will eliminate $3.6 billion in 2011 funding for all workforce-related services.

As a result, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center “would not have any new federal funding for WIA (Workforce Investment Act) formula programs, devastating the workforce systems ability to provide assistance to job seekers and employers in need of skilled workers,” noted Paul, in reading from a legislative update. In essence, this could mean the end of this program, unless another funding source is secured.

During a recent commissioners meeting, Paul expressed concerns about the proposal, especially with a county saddled with high unemployment. He questioned the merits of eliminating programs aimed at helping the unemployed obtain jobs. “It doesn’t seem to make sense to reduce services to the unemployed during a period of high unemployment,” said the commissioner. According to Paul, this program offers a valuable service and is a worthwhile government investment. “It is running at full capacity,” said Paul. In conducting a detailed tour of the Workforce operations recently, Paul said virtually all of their job center computers are in full use.

Teller’s high unemployment numbers are attributed partially to the layoffs in Cripple Creek and a lean season for hiring workers, according to local business leaders.

On the upside, the fate of the House bill, referred to as HR 1, is not a done deal. According to Paul, the package still has to get approved by the Senate and then signed by President Obama.

Many legislative insiders see the massive cut package facing a tough future in the Senate, which is still controlled by the Democratic Party. The Democrats have also favored spending cuts, but not of the magnitude of many Republicans in the House.

However, the commissioners say the new fiscal spending realities at both the federal and state level, are forcing them to monitor legislation on a daily basis. According to a recent forum conducted by Lamborn, the federal government is currently spending $3 million a minute. “We can’t just do that anymore,” said Lamborn.

This anti-spending message has definitely gained momentum with the U.S. Congress, but the details are still under much debate. And unless a compromise is reached, the federal government could get shut down.

In any case, the talk of more cuts is making local leaders nervous.

Besides potential cuts to the Workforce Center, the Teller government recently learned that its Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, which provides the county with considerable money based on the vast amount of federal public lands located in Teller, nearly faced the blade of the fiscal guillotine.

Meanwhile, local school district are facing a survival test based on massive cuts proposed by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.

In other action, the county commissioners recently did their part in the cut spending movement by approving a net savings of $1.04 million in employee and 2011 budget costs by freeing up monies that are no longer needed due to vacant positions that haven’t been filled. In the last year and a half, the county commissioners estimate that Teller has reduced about 15 key positions due to employee resignations and even terminations.

Some of these positions will be filled, and monies may be used for other purposes. But at least for now, these readjustments give the county more fiscal leeway, according to County Commission Chairman Jim Ignatius.