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State Would Again Lose Funds for Jailed Illegal Immigrants

February 07, 2006|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The budget that President Bush sent to Congress on Monday contains no money to help states pay for jailing illegal immigrants and cuts funds for clean-water projects, both major concerns to California officials.

But not everything in the fiscal year 2007 budget was bad news for the state. California would benefit under the administration's plans to steer additional anti-terrorism money to regions that are judged at higher risk of attack, including parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties and the San Francisco Bay area. And Bush once again called on Congress to make permanent a tax credit for research and development, a priority of the state's high-tech industry.

Bush's decision not to reimburse states for jailing illegal immigrants drew the sharpest criticism, even though it was hardly a surprise.

"This is a blow to California," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) declared, vowing to press Congress to provide funding.

The lack of funding for the program is nothing new; Bush did the same thing in previous budgets, forcing California and other border states to lobby Congress. For the current fiscal year, such lobbying succeeded in securing $405 million nationwide -- less than what California alone spends, but $100 million more than the 2005 budget provided.

Fights for federal aid for any programs not directly related to security are expected to be tougher this year as Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, have signaled a new, more determined effort to reduce the budget deficit.

But that desire could be tempered by political realities, given that all 435 House seats and a third of those in the Senate are up for election in November and lawmakers are eager to show they are bringing back to their districts and states some of the money their constituents sent to Washington.

State officials' reaction to the budget followed mostly along party lines.

"This budget is President Bush saying to California, 'Drop dead,' " said Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles). "The cuts are harsh and unfair and will undermine our attempts to revitalize our economy."

The proposed spending reductions come days after Congress gave its final approval to a budget-cutting bill that will cost California at least $1.7 billion, and perhaps as much as $2.4 billion, in federal aid over the next five years.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose, head of the California House Democratic caucus, laid the blame for the state's failure to do better in the budget at the feet of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who pledged to be "The Collectinator" -- bringing more money back to California from Washington.

"It looks like Gov. Schwarzenegger is just too weak, just not strong enough, to deliver the fair share of federal funds he promised to California," she said in a written statement.

H.D. Palmer, the governor's deputy director for finance, shrugged off Lofgren's criticism, saying that Schwarzenegger played a key role in helping persuade Congress last year not only to restore aid to states for jailing illegal immigrants but to increase the amount.

"This is the beginning of a process, not the end of it," Palmer said. "There's a lot of work that can and will be done in the coming months, with the governor working not only with the state's congressional delegation but with other leaders in Washington, to be able to craft a budget that better meets the needs of California."

Reimbursing states for the jailing of illegal immigrants has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) was among those disappointed that there was no money in the proposed budget for it. He pledged to "work aggressively with my colleagues to ensure this vital program receives the funding that our local law enforcement needs."

For that program this year, California expects to receive $107 million in federal funds -- only a portion of the $662 million it expects to spend for jailing illegal immigrants convicted of crimes. Los Angeles County expects to receive about $12 million, about a fourth of the $50 million it expects to spend.

"Illegal immigration is the responsibility of the federal government," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said. "But states and localities have been forced to shoulder the costs associated with incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens."

The Bush administration contends that money is better spent tightening security along the border and enforcing immigration laws.

Although disappointed by the lack of reimbursement for jailing illegal immigrants, Palmer said Schwarzenegger's administration was pleased with Bush's proposal to beef up border security, including $30 million to complete a system of fencing, vehicle barriers and patrol roads along the San Diego border.

Elsewhere in the Bush budget was a proposal to cut $200 million from an $890-million program that reduces pollution discharged into oceans, lakes and rivers. California's share of the clean water fund in fiscal 2005 was about $82 million.

"That's a big cut, and we're concerned about it," said Stephen K. Hall, the executive director of the Assn. of California Water Agencies.

However, the budget provides $38.6 million, a slight increase from this year's funding, for the CalFed Bay-Delta Program, a state-federal attempt to balance the interests of cities, farmers and the environment over the state's major watershed, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Feinstein cheered the nearly $164 million allocated for flood-control projects in the state but expressed disappointment about the lack of funding to strengthen levees in the delta to "prevent a catastrophic flood that would cut off water supply to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California."

But Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-San Diego) was pleased by at least one element of the proposed budget. She said Bush's proposal to fund the construction of more Navy ships was "welcome news for San Diego's shipbuilders."

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