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OKC chamber official concerned about budget cuts

Tim Talley, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The head of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce called on Congress on Wednesday to block defense spending cuts he said could have a devastating impact on Oklahoma, home to five military bases, even as business leaders work to create more jobs.

Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City chamber, said the cuts could lead to the furlough of thousands of civilian employees who work at Oklahoma's military bases as well as the adoption of a four-day work week instead of five days, the equivalent of a 20 percent pay cut for those people.

"It would be horrible," he said.

Williams made the comments as the business coalition released a jobs plan that focuses on 11 issues the state's business community will pursue during the 2013 legislative session to stimulate economic growth in Oklahoma, such as workers' compensation and economic incentives. The defense spending cuts weren't part of the plan but Williams said Oklahoma's economy could be damaged if the cuts go into effect.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., has said more than 26,000 civilian workers at Oklahoma's five military installations could face furloughs under the pending defense spending cuts.

The cuts, known as a sequester, are scheduled to begin on March 1 and are the result of Congress' failure to trim the deficit by $1.2 trillion over a decade. The Pentagon faces a $46 billion budget reduction through the end of September, and additional cuts would come in future years as long as the sequester remains in effect.

The military also has to absorb a $487 billion reduction in defense spending over the next 10 years mandated by the Budget Control Act passed in 2011.

Military officials have said the budget cuts will degrade the military's ability to respond to a crisis. In Oklahoma, the cuts would likely affect the state's economy as well as the economies of communities where the state's military bases are located, Williams said.

"We would probably be one of the more hard-hit states," he said. "There's no good news in it at all. It is really a serious issue."

In addition to civilians who work at the bases, the budget cuts would have an impact on private contractors that provide services and supplies to them as well as restaurants, hotels and other businesses that cater to the bases, Williams said.

"There's a huge ripple effect," he said. The cuts could also lead to litigation involving companies with military contracts that are already in place.

"You can't really find anything out there that's good about it," Williams said. He said chamber officials have been talking to members of the state's congressional delegation in hopes of avoiding the cuts.

"We're hoping that Congress gets its act together," he said.

State Chamber of Oklahoma President Fred Morgan said the 11-point jobs plan developed by the coalition of chambers is designed to maintain the state's economic momentum and do more to make Oklahoma a good place to do business.

"Oklahoma has done very well during this recession but there is so much more that needs to be done," Morgan said.

Among other things, the agenda supports a plan to reduce the number of citizens without health insurance, including a private sector health insurance network and development of a long-term solution to fund the state's Medicaid program.