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Wilson Presses Case for Federal Aid : Finance: Governor says taxes paid by illegal immigrants should not be counted to offset the reimbursement he seeks. House bill would help states with prison costs.

March 19, 1994|GLENN F. BUNTING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Gov. Pete Wilson said Friday that state taxes paid by illegal immigrants should not be counted to offset any portion of aid Congress provides to reimburse California for delivering federally required services to undocumented residents.

Wilson is pressing Congress to reimburse California $2.5 billion for the cost of providing education and health services and imprisoning illegal immigrants. His lobbying efforts received a major boost Friday when the House Judiciary Committee submitted an omnibus crime bill that includes language to reimburse states for the prison costs.

The Clinton Administration has argued that the federal government should count revenues generated by illegal immigrants through sales, property and income taxes to offset some of the costs of delivering services.

"I reject that," Wilson told reporters in an interview. "It is a specious argument."

Wilson suggested that the vast majority of illegal immigrants who receive government services are indigent and do not pay a huge amount of taxes to the state. Many illegal residents, he said, receive money "under the table" that is not subject to withholding taxes.

Critics accused Wilson of engaging in "immigrant bashing" by refusing to acknowledge the contributions of illegal immigrants.

"For whatever reasons, the variable of receipts is something the governor always leaves out of the equation," said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles). "It is intellectually dishonest, it's unfair. That's why many of us think this is nothing more than a very hot political issue. It is scary, but it sells."

The Clinton Administration has hired the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, to determine the cost of services delivered to illegal immigrants and the amount of tax revenues they generate. Budget Director Leon E. Panetta said Thursday that states should calculate the revenues received from illegal immigrants before submitting a bill to the federal government.

At least one state, Texas, has issued a study concluding that illegal immigrants make a substantial contribution in taxes. In a recent study, Los Angeles County researchers found that undocumented residents paid $336 million in sales and property taxes, vehicle fees and lottery tickets during the 1991-92 fiscal year.

The Judiciary Committee's decision to include reimbursement for prison costs came as Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) persuaded committee Chairman Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) to insert the language. Berman had failed to get a similar provision in the bill at the subcommittee level.

"There will be significant resources coming to the states," Berman said. "This is a major hurdle we've overcome. . . . California will be the single biggest beneficiary of this."

The provision still faces congressional hurdles. If approved by the full House, the legislation would go to a conference committee where House and Senate negotiators would try to reconcile differences between the crime bills passed by each chamber. The Senate bill does not include reimbursement for prison costs.

The Wilson Administration estimates that it will cost California $403 million to imprison more than 18,000 illegal immigrant felons in fiscal year 1995.

Imprisonment costs make up only a small chunk of the overall reimbursement package that Wilson is seeking from the federal government for providing services to undocumented residents, who number an estimated 2 million in California. His $2.5-billion request includes $1.7 billion to educate 392,260 school-age illegal immigrant children and $400 million to provide emergency and pregnancy-related medical care to 390,000 illegal immigrants.

Wilson's numbers have come under attack by the Clinton Administration and Democrats in the California congressional delegation, led by Sen. Barbara Boxer. One California Democratic aide said: "I don't know of any Democrat who is saying the ($2.5) billion is a correct figure."

On Friday, Wilson met in a closed-door session for 30 minutes to discuss immigration funding strategy with four members of the House Appropriations Committee--Democrats Vic Fazio of West Sacramento and Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Republicans Jerry Lewis of Redlands and Ron Packard of Oceanside.

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