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Federal cuts would squeeze South Florida from the waterfront to research lab

At PortMiami, federal dollars fund Customs agents, security operations and cargo inspectors. But with a historic cut in federal spending set to begin Friday, port director Bill Johnson must contemplate how to keep the place running with less help from Washington.

“I don’t want to have a bunch of rotten tomatoes,”Johnson said Tuesday. “Or disgruntled cruise passengers.”

This week brought similar discouraging thoughts, scenarios and forecasts from hundreds of agencies, charities and businesses throughout South Florida as the mystery of a federal spending “sequester” approached. On Friday, federal law requires the White House to begin to cut spending by $85 billion this year, the trigger from a 2011 deficit-reduction rule designed to force a compromise on bringing down the nation’s debt.

Republicans and Democrats haven’t reached a deal, and Washington watchers don’t expect one by Friday. What once seemed a remote possibility now threatens to rattle how South Florida spends at least some of its federal dollars, while leaving many to plan for contingencies they’re not sure will actually happen.

The full scope of the furlough’s impact remains unclear — both nationally and in South Florida. But as the deadline approaches, more details on cutbacks and preparations are surfacing. Here’s a look at some of the sequester’s potential impacts across the region. More here from Doug Hanks and Martha Brannigan