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Boxer Disputes Wilson Figures on Immigrants : Finances: She calls for U.S. scrutiny of governor's estimated cost of services to undocumented residents.

March 04, 1994|GLENN F. BUNTING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Lashing out at Gov. Pete Wilson for relying on the federal government to pay the state $2.3 billion in illegal immigration expenses, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she has asked the General Accounting Office to study the governor's cost estimates.

Boxer said the state's congressional delegation needs an objective analysis of the Wilson Administration's figures before seeking full reimbursement in Washington. Although Wilson is right to push for the money, it was irresponsible of him to count the $2.3 billion as anticipated revenue to balance his 1995 budget proposal, Boxer said during a breakfast meeting with The Times Washington Bureau.

"I don't think you have to have a degree in graduate government studies to see what he's doing," Boxer said. "He wants to blame somebody else for the problems of the state, and that means all the problems." If the problem is crime, "he'll blame the Democrats. If it's his budget deficit, he'll blame the feds and (President) Clinton."

Wilson Administration officials declined to respond to Boxer's remarks. The governor has been criticized by Clinton officials and some California House Democrats for inflating the state's cost of federally required services to illegal immigrants.

Next week Boxer plans to huddle with GAO officials to discuss how they will assess conflicting estimates of immigration costs. On April 28, the Wilson Administration is scheduled to meet with leaders of the California congressional delegation in an attempt to arrive at a consensus on how much money to pursue.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Boxer predicted an "ugly, horrible, brutal" race for governor this fall. She said she believes that California's unprecedented election in 1992 of two women senators will help Democrat Kathleen Brown because voters are getting accustomed to women serving in high political office.

"People are more used to it," Boxer said. "They're excited at the thought. Just think about it. History, we can make even more history. We've already made history. Let's make more history. It's exciting. Let's do it. Then no one can catch up with us in California."

Although she and Feinstein have not yet offered to make joint campaign appearances on Brown's behalf, Boxer said she was certain it would be discussed. She added that she will help Feinstein's reelection effort this year "to the greatest extent that I can."

On the emotional immigration issue, Boxer reacted coolly to legislation offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) that would cut off federal funding for undocumented immigrant students from kindergarten through high school. She called the measure unconstitutional.

But Boxer said she did not oppose another Rohrabacher proposal that would require schools to report the number of illegal immigrant students, along with counting students who are legal residents but have one or more undocumented parents. Boxer said schools would have to be paid to compile the statistics, which would be used to help calculate the much-disputed costs of illegal immigration.

A budget battle is expected to develop between border states and the Clinton Administration over the federal government's obligation to pay states for providing services to undocumented immigrants.

The Clinton Administration set aside no specific funds in its 1995 budget for the reimbursement Wilson is seeking. Budget Director Leon E. Panetta has said the Administration will seek to identify the cost of imprisoning undocumented felons--a figure that Wilson says amounts to $300 million a year.

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