Military cuts expected to impact Wahiawa

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: Feb 12 2013 06:34:00 PM HST

The military has been Wahiawa's economic lifeline for more than seven decades. Wahiawa's momentum is now threatened because of automatic budget cuts to social programs and the military known as sequestration.

WAHIAWA, Hawaii -

Zach and Lisa Batalona are excited for what the future may hold. After operating a hot dog stand at Schofield Barracks for 10 months, the couple took a leap of faith and rented a storefront in the heart of Wahiawa along Kamehameha Highway. Their new business, The Dawgs Grill, specializes in gourmet hot dogs.

"All of our customers come from the base," said Zach Batalona. "They love us, and we love them."

However, the Batalonas' dream of succeeding in Wahiawa could be threatened if automatic spending cuts to the nation's defense budget proceed under what's known as sequestration. Democrats and Republicans agreed to the measure in August 2011 as a way to force Congress to act on further deficit reduction measures. The sequester would institute cuts of $1.2 trillion to military and social programs that President Barack Obama called sudden, harsh and arbitrary in Tuesday's State of the Union address.

It's estimated as many as 11,000 jobs could be lost in Hawaii, and 18,000 civilian DOD employees furloughed if sequestration is allowed to stand.  Initial cuts of $85 billion are scheduled to begin as soon as March 1, something Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono said must be averted.

"Just today, top military officers warned my colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee and me that these cuts would impact the military's readiness everywhere, including in the increasingly important Asia-Pacific region," Hirono said in a statement issued after the president's address. "Averting these cuts before March 1 is not just an economic necessity; it's a matter of national security."

The Batalonas aren't alone in their anxiety over proposed cuts to the military. Surfing the Nations, which leases a storefront to the couple, is concerned prospective business owners may back out of leases if Congress fails to stop the budget axe.

"One of the first things they pay attention to, is how close we are to the military base," said Surfing the Nations Executive Director Cindy Bauer. "To lose that, even just as a selling point to try to get people in here, is going to have an effect on us completely."

Bauer's nonprofit group, which is dedicated to humanitarian causes, purchased almost an entire city block in Wahiawa in 2009 and 2011. For years the area used to be Wahiawa's red light district, featuring an adult video store, a strip bar and prostitution.

"We definitely need the military here to make it everything we want it to be," Bauer said of her properties. "

According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, sequestration would force a 9.4 percent reduction in non-exempt defense discretionary spending, and an 8.2 percent cut to non-exempt, non-defense budgets.

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