San Diegans must work together to soften 'fiscal cliff' blow

I was in the White House in early December for discussions regarding the federal budget and sequestration. These issues will have a significant impact on the national economy and on San Diego. I was reminded that San Diego needs a stronger voice in our nation’s capital on issues that impact our region.

If Congress doesn’t act by the end of this year, a series of automatic changes to the tax code and the federal budget — collectively called the “fiscal cliff” and sequestration — could cause gross domestic product to shrink, and unemployment to grow. It will raise taxes on everyone, and the sequester could cut without impunity across federal programs in 2013.

Don’t get me wrong. Spending cuts are necessary. We must balance the federal budget, reduce the debt and put the federal government on a path toward fiscal sustainability. The problem with the current impending fiscal cliff and sequestration is that it imposes an arbitrary mandate without regard to economic impacts.

That White House meeting with business leaders and federal officials made one thing clear: The fiscal cliff can have real consequences on San Diego’s economy. We need to avoid an arbitrary approach to the budget that would impose cuts without regard to long-term economic factors.

It is also clear that the leadership our country needs isn’t going to come from within the halls of our nation’s capital. It needs to come from outside the Beltway. These challenges require strong local leadership and effective advocacy in Washington, D.C.

The issues of sequestration and the federal fiscal cliff represent immediate challenges for San Diego. It is important for San Diego to have a voice on these issues. Business leaders are uniquely positioned to provide this leadership; we know better than anyone else what helps to create jobs and grow our businesses, and what is holding us back.

Federal budget decisions can have a real effect on San Diego’s economy and our ability to grow jobs in the region. San Diego is home to the highest concentration of military personnel in the world, comprising almost 15 percent of our region’s work force. The military is a vital part of San Diego’s economy. Unfortunately, the sequestration is expected to cut military spending to unprecedented levels. It is critical that we work to minimize the impacts of potential federal cutbacks on San Diego’s military and civilian work force.

We must advocate for the important economic sectors, like the military, which create jobs and drive San Diego’s economy. Supporting the military in San Diego helps to create additional jobs throughout our local economy.

Additionally, at the local level, we should support approval of a new modern Navy headquarters in downtown San Diego. This development will serve as a flagship for this important sector of our economy.

The Chamber of Commerce has been collaborating with regional partners, including the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., Connect, the San Diego Military Advisory Council and others on these important military issues. These efforts should continue. There is a growing recognition that working together, we can provide a stronger voice for San Diego in Washington, help to grow jobs, and make our region more competitive on a global scale.

Barrales is a former president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. He also serves as a member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Southwest Border Task Force and Community Resilience Task Force.

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