Budget cuts to cause flight delays, park woes, officials say

Travelers in major cities could face delays of 90 minutes or more. And visitors to national parks would see fewer services and shorter hours.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is warning that automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect March 1 will result in travel delays at major airports and require traffic-disrupting shutdowns of air traffic control towers at smaller facilities.

And visitors to America's national parks will encounter fewer rangers, find locked restrooms and visitors centers, and see trashcans emptied less often.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the across-the-board reductions will require trimming $600 million this year form the Federal Aviation Administration. He says that will mean furloughing air traffic controllers, which in turn will reduce the ability to guide planes in and out of airports.

He says travelers could experience delays of 90 minutes or more in major cities.

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The transportation reductions are part of broader cuts across government agencies that are scheduled to kick in at the end of next week.

LaHood's appearance in the White House briefing room was part of a continuing campaign by Cabinet members and other administration officials aimed at buttressing President Barack Obama's appeal to Congress to replace the cuts with tax increases and targeted reductions. Congressional Republicans oppose any additional tax increases.

Asked whether it appeared inevitable that the cuts would materialize, press secretary Jay Carney said: "We obviously are discouraged by the line that Republican leaders have taken, which is the book is closed on revenue. ... We remain hopeful and we will continue to engage with Congress."

LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, denied that he was simply describing a worst-case scenario that would scare the public and put pressure on Republican lawmakers. He said the effect of the cuts will begin to be felt around the beginning of April.

"What I'm trying to do is wake up members of the Congress with the idea that they need to come to the table so we don't have to have this kind of calamity in air services in America," he said.

LaHood said the main reason the White House had asked him to appear before White House-based reporters was because he is a Republican making the case for Obama with Republican lawmakers.

National parks threatened by budget cuts: Hikers on the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall in Yosemite. IMAGEAP Photo: File

NATIONAL PARK SCENARIOS

A National Park Service internal memo obtained by The Associated Press compiles a list of cuts in services in parks from Cape Cod to Yosemite. It's the result of an order by Park Service Director Jon Jarvis in January that asked superintendents to show how they will absorb the funding cuts.

Most of the Park Service's $2.9 billion budget is for permanent spending such as staff salaries, fuel, utilities and rent payments. Superintendents have about 10 percent of their budgets for discretionary spending for things ranging from interpretive programs to historic-artifact maintenance to trail repair, and would lose half of that to the 5 percent cuts.

The towering giant sequoias at Yosemite National Park would go unprotected from visitors who might trample their shallow roots. At Cape Cod National Seashore, large sections of the Great Beach would close to keep eggs from being destroyed if natural resource managers are cut.

Gettysburg would decrease by one-fifth the number of schoolchildren who learn about the historic battle that was a turning point in the Civil War.

"We're planning for this to happen and hoping that it doesn't," said National Park spokesman Jeffrey Olson, who confirmed that the list is authentic and represents cuts the department is considering.

 Employees would be furloughed for more than a month.

One in five international tourists visits one of America's 398 national parks, research shows, and the parks are one-third of the top 25 domestic travel destinations. If the cuts go though, the memo shows national parks visitors will notice fewer services, shorter hours and the placing of some sensitive areas completely off-limits when there isn't enough staff to protect resources.

Programs on the chopping block include invasive species eradication in Yosemite, student education at Gettysburg, and comfort stations on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi.

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