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State gets federal jail funds

California and Texas team up to secure the money to jail illegal immigrants.

November 16, 2011|Richard Simon

WASHINGTON — California and Texas lawmakers formed a rare alliance to secure $240 million in federal funds to pay for jailing illegal immigrants despite a congressional drive to reduce Washington's red ink.

After a House subcommittee proposed eliminating federal reimbursements for state prisons and local jails that incarcerate about 300,000 convicted illegal immigrants nationwide, lawmakers from the two most populous blue and red states formed a rare alliance to preserve the money.

Securing the jail funding has long been one of California's top priorities in Washington.

California is expected to receive about $65.8 million, about $22 million less than anticipated, according to a state Department of Finance spokesman. But California officials in Washington expressed relief, given the earlier proposal. The money represents only a fraction of the more than $938 million in annual state costs of incarcerating illegal immigrants convicted of crimes, state officials said.

The jail funding is included in a spending bill approved by House-Senate negotiators that would prevent a government shutdown this weekend. The overall bill gives lawmakers until mid-December to complete work on spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. It also would set funding levels for the year for a number of programs.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, November 17, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Federal jail funds: An article in the Nov. 16 LATExtra section about federal reimbursements to states for the incarceration of illegal immigrants misspelled the last name of House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing as Hinge.

No money is provided for high-speed rail, a reflection of growing uneasiness in Congress over the cost of such projects as a proposed California bullet train. A California High-Speed Rail Authority spokeswoman said the agency wasn't anticipating federal funding before 2014. But the lack of federal funding for fiscal 2012 could spell trouble in future years. "High-speed rail funding is a luxury at a time when federal dollars are scarce," said House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hinge.

Money for the community development block grant, a key funding source for local efforts to generate jobs, revitalize run-down neighborhoods and help low-income residents, also was cut.

The bill reinstates higher limits on loans in high-housing-cost markets such as California but only for those insured by the Federal Housing Administration, not for those backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, as sought by a bipartisan group of California lawmakers.

The House Appropriations Committee noted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been under public scrutiny for "questionable business practices."

Although the provision didn't go as far as he wanted, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) called the higher $729,750 limit for FHA-insured loans the single most important provision of the bill. He said it would "prevent a collapse of housing prices in high-cost areas like Los Angeles."

In securing the jail money, California and Texas benefited from the sizes of their House delegations -- No. 1 and No. 2, respectively -- and the number of their lawmakers in key positions.

Rep. Jerry Lewis of Redlands, California's senior Republican in Congress, and Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), joined Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) in making pitches to Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), the appropriations subcommittee chairman. Wolf's panel recommends funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) worked together, using their positions on the Senate Appropriations Committee to preserve the funding.

They argued that local and state taxpayers shouldn't have to bear even more of a burden for the federal government's failure to control the border.

The California-Texas alliance was surprising because the states are often fierce competitors: Los Angeles beat Houston for a retired space shuttle. Dallas knocked the Lakers out of the NBA playoffs last year. And the Lone Star State is sure to crow about a census report showing that the most common state-to-state move last year was from California to Texas.

"Every once in a while we stumble onto the fact that we have more common interests than we think," Lewis said.

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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