Key state programs take hit in Bush budget
SACRAMENTO(AP) – President Bush’s budget plan slashes by more than half money that reimburses for jailing illegal immigrants – a critical source of dollars for California and other border states.
The $1.96 trillion budget plan submitted to Congress Monday also trims energy conservation programs and agriculture spending and hints at future military base closures.
But the state also landed a key victory: $20 million for a federal and state water pact aimed resolving the state’s water wars.
”The budget is a mixed bag for California,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in a statement issued Monday.
The release of Bush’s plan follows months of speculation about how the Republican president would treat a Democrat-run state where he lost overwhelmingly in November. Now, it appears California could feel the sting of sharp cuts to make room for his $1.6 trillion tax cut plan.
“We got a foot in the door for Cal-Fed with $20 million being budgeted, although much more will be needed down the road if we are to ensure an adequate water supply and the restoration of the endangered Bay Delta,” she said. “Additionally, $14 million was provided to help the restoration of Lake Tahoe, but the law that I sponsored, which was signed into law, called for $30 million,” Feinstein said.
Bush proposes the deepest cuts in the departments of Transportation and Agriculture – major chunks of the state’s economy and both agencies the president has appointed Californians to run.
State leaders, however, call the toughest blow a proposed cut of the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, from $585 million to $265 million. Created by Congress in 1995, the program pays incarceration costs for criminals who are illegal immigrants.
”It’s a big hit for the state,” said Tim Ransdell, executive director of the California Institute for Federal Policy Research.
The state estimates it will spend about $555 million next year for the incarceration and parole supervision of undocumented felons, said Finance Department spokesman Sandy Harrison.
Gov. Gray Davis anticipated receiving $189 million from the federal government next fiscal year to help pay that, but Bush’s plan would send California about $106 million, which Harrison calls ”a significant loss of revenue.”
Bush’s plan also cuts environmental and energy-conservation programs, which could hurt the state as it copes with rolling blackouts and energy shortages.
Despite the cuts, the budget increases other money going to the state, including $382 million in new California education spending, a tax credit to help uninsured people buy health coverage, money to preserve Lake Tahoe, and a boost in medical research to combat AIDS and other diseases.
The plan also directs $20 million to Cal-Fed, a state and federal program to restore the ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and beef up the state’s water supply.
Last year, the Clinton administration asked for $60 million for Cal-Fed, but Congress appropriated nothing in its final budget.
”We got a foot in the door with $20 million in funds for Cal-Fed, although much more will be needed down the road,” Feinstein said.
Cal-Fed director Patrick Wright said in a statement he is pleased ”the Bush administration has chosen to highlight the importance of the Cal-Fed program,” but added he is disappointed by the amount of federal money proposed.
Bush proposes a $310.5 billion Pentagon budget that is subject to change pending a ”top-to-bottom” review of the Department of Defense.
In a February outline previewing his budget plan, Bush said he planned to eliminate unneeded infrastructure and possibly close down military bases once the Pentagon finished the review.
California shouldered 60 percent of the nation’s personnel cuts during base closures from 1988-1995.
Bush’s budget also revives a program requiring hazard insurance for all public buildings – including schools and hospitals.
Local governments would lose federal aid unless they buy the insurance in the next three years. California’s congressional delegation last year managed to thwart a similar proposal, calling the program ”prohibitively expensive.”
On the Net: Read of download budget highlights at http://www.gpo.gov/usbudget
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.