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Looming budget cuts swamp Navy festival fleet, air show

Organizers say both events will go on despite missing pieces


by: COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND ROSE FESTIVAL FOUNDATION - U.S. Navy ships may not take part in Fleet Week this year because of looming federal budget cuts.The U.S. Navy may be forced to cancel its participation in the Portland Rose Festival because of the looming federal budget cuts known as “sequestration.”

“We are aware of that, but Fleet Week will go on whether the U.S. Navy can make it or not,” says Jeff Curtis, Rose Festival chief executive officer.

Several Navy ships are scheduled to dock along the seawall in downtown Portland from June 5 to 9. But that could change if Congress does not reach a budget compromise by March 1, which looks increasingly unlikely.

The Navy’s Blue Angels flying aerobatic team could also be forced to cancel its appearance at the 2013 Oregon International Air Show in Hillsboro because of the pending cuts.

Air Show President Judy Willey says a Navy admiral discussed the military’s financial situation last week with the board of the International Council of Air Shows in Washington, D.C. Willey serves on the board and attended the meeting.

Both Curtis and Willey say the budget problems facing the federal government are much bigger than their festivals.

“It’s the next fiscal cliff. It could affect everything,” says Curtis.

“We don’t want the Blue Angels to cancel, but what could happen to the military is a much bigger deal for the country than what could happen to the air show,” says Willey, the wife of Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey.

Some defense analysts estimate that the military-related cuts could cost the U.S. economy 2 million jobs in the defense industry and other sectors.

Curtis notes that only one Navy ship participated in Fleet Week in 2010.

Willey says another military flying team, a demonstration team of both modern and vintage military aircraft, could also be forced to pull out of the air show.

Willey says the show’s board is committed to going ahead with this year’s event, which is scheduled for the last weekend in July at the Hillsboro Airport. The board is still planning on the participation of both military teams. There are a dozen other performers that are not dependent on government support.

The air show board changed the date of this year’s event to accommodate the schedule of the Blue Angels, one of the most popular flying stunt teams in the world. It is scheduled for the same weekend as the Washington County State Fair. There are no plans to change the date if the two military teams pull out, Willey says.

The Blue Angels were formed in 1946. The six demonstration pilots fly the F/A-18 Hornet in more than 70 shows at 34 locations throughout the United States each year. An estimated 11 million spectators view the squadron during air shows each year.

Already making cuts

Looming federal budget cuts were part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and were intended to be so deep that Congress would approve a mix of smaller cuts and tax increases before they took effect. Although the last Congress enacted some tax increases at the last minute, most of the cuts are still scheduled to take effect.

An internal Navy memo and accompanying slideshow presentation was sent out by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert in mid-January. According to the Jan. 25 memo, the Navy is already making cuts because of Congress’ failure to pass its spending bills last year. It is facing an additional $4 billion in cuts for fiscal year 2013 if Congress doesn’t reach a budget deal in time.

The memo and slides outlined a range of possible cuts by the Navy, including the cancellation of 30 Blue Angel show appearances, which is projected to save $20 million.

The memo also lists a reduction or cancellation of fleet participation in the Portland Rose Festival and Seattle Seafair among the proposed cuts.