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Obama budget impact on California: Win some, lose some

April 10, 2013|By Richard Simon
  • Copies of President Obama's budget plan for fiscal year 2014 are distributed to Senate staff on Capitol Hill.
Copies of President Obama's budget plan for fiscal year 2014 are distributed… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

WASHINGTON---President Obama’s budget offers a mixed bag to California: money eagerly sought by Los Angeles to expand its transit system, but no federal funds to help the state pay its nearly billion-dollar bill for jailing illegal immigrants.

The budget sent to Congress provides $130 million to help fund the start of the first segment to extend the Los Angeles subway to the city’s Westside and begin work on the downtown Regional Connector.

But it calls for eliminating the $250 million provided nationally this year to help states pay the cost of jailing illegal immigrants. The funding has long been a top priority for California, which receives the largest chunk of any state. Even so,  the federal funds cover only a fraction of the state’s costs for incarcerating illegal immigrants convicted of crimes. 

DOCUMENT: President Obama’s 2014 budget

Obama tried before to cut the funding but ran into bipartisan opposition led by a rare alliance of California and Texas lawmakers, who argued that their states’ taxpayers shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden for the federal government’s failure to control the border. 

But this year could be different, with congressional Republicans ever more determined to rein in spending.

Predictably, the president’s budget drew criticism from California Republicans who said it would raise taxes while not doing enough to reduce Washington’s red ink. But it also drew fire from some of Obama’s Democratic allies in California, who object to proposed cutbacks in cost-of-living increases to Social Security recipients.

“While I appreciate President Obama’s genuine effort to yet again go the extra mile to find common ground with Republicans in Congress and get Washington working again, I am disappointed that misplaced cuts to our nation’s social safety net are so front and center,” Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) said in a statement.  “Social Security has not contributed to our deficit and benefits should not be cut in the name of deficit reduction, particularly as fewer employers offer pension plans and private retirement plans have been hit by the recession.”

In another cut that could hit California,  Obama proposed eliminating the $10 million provided to states to help pay for water quality monitoring and public notification programs at beaches.  The White House contended that states, after receiving help for more than a decade, should be able to run their own programs.

“We realize that lawmakers face many tough decisions to close the deficit, but the proposed cuts in beach water-quality and monitoring programs may come at a heavy cost,” said Matthew King, a spokesman for Santa Monica-based environmental group Heal the Bay. “If agencies have to cut back or cease monitoring for bacterial pollution along shorelines, it poses a public health risk for the millions of people who visit California beaches each year.”  

Obama’s budget calls for $40 billion in spending over five years for high-speed and inter-city rail. California officials say they have no plans to seek federal funding next year for their controversial bullet train project. Even so, the proposed spending  is likely to run into stiff opposition from House Republicans, including California GOP lawmakers opposed to the state’s costly project.

The budget includes funding for a new “America Fast Forward” bond program, named after the program pushed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to speed up transit projects, but calls for a lower federal subsidy than L.A. officials have sought. Los Angeles officials want the federal government to fully pick up the interest costs, though that is likely to be a long shot in a Congress anxious to bring down the federal budget deficit.

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