San Diego Union-Tribune

April 10, 2001

State loses as SD gains in Bush budget proposal


WASHINGTON -- California lawmakers and public-policy analysts said the budget plan President Bush released yesterday would compromise the state's safety, its border and its financial health.

Bush's spending proposal for the 2002 budget year would significantly cut the money spent to imprison felons in the country illegally, would slash the budget for community-oriented policing by 17 percent and would require California to cover all public buildings with earthquake insurance. It would also slash spending on renewable energy and conservation programs that Gov. Gray Davis considers crucial to helping California's energy crisis.

On a brighter note, Bush's $1.96 trillion budget would more than double the money spent on school security officers -- good news in the wake of schools shootings in San Diego County last month -- and would spend $42 million to complete trolley lines from eastern Mission Valley to University City, and from Oceanside to Escondido.

The release of the president's budget proposal is the first step in a long process that usually concludes in the fall. Congress now must act.

Bush asked Congress to take $299 million from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which reimburses states for jailing noncitizens who break the law. This would be an especially heavy financial blow to California, which has about 71 percent of such prisoners nationwide.

The Bush budget said the program "contributes little to reducing violent crime," though immigration experts said the money is to reimburse states for the costs they incur, not to stop crime.

States have argued that the federal government should cover the cost of jailing noncitizens who break the law because the federal government sets immigration policy.

Tim Ransdell with the California Institute for Federal Policy Research called the reduction "ugly." Wendy Zimmerman, a policy analyst at the Washington-based Urban Institute, said the cut "signals a retreat on the part of the federal government to help the states share in the cost of immigration." And a spokesman for California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, called this and other provisions in Bush's budget of "major concern" for California.

Spokesman Howard Gantman called it "very bad news" that Bush wants to cut federal energy efficiency and renewable energy programs by more than $200 million from current levels, and to slash community- policing programs from $1.03 billion this year to $855 million for the budget year that starts Oct. 1. Under the latter program -- a priority of the Clinton administration -- officers work directly with communities to reduce crime. The reduction "would really diminish the ability of our cities to provide the number of police officers they need," Gantman said.

Said Rubin Lopez, spokesman for the California Association of Counties: "If this goes down . . . it could have a very negative impact on safety."

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said "the program was a three-year commitment made by President Clinton, and the three-year commitment has been honored."

With money saved partly from the policing program, Bush would spend $180 million to hire 1,500 security officers at schools -- more than double the $70 million that schools are now spending.

Bush also would require California to buy earthquake insurance for all public buildings, including hospitals and universities. Ransdell said such insurance is "unavailable except at exorbitant prices."

Finally, the budget seeks to eliminate "excess infrastructure" in the Department of Defense budget. While the budget document didn't elaborate, others read meaning into it for California. Ransdell called it "budget-speak for military base closures."

The budget also:

Would spend $20 million for projects to improve water quality in the San Francisco Bay-San Joaquin River Delta, the water source for two-thirds of Californians and 7 million acres of agricultural land.

Would provide $144 million to improve truck inspections along the U.S.-Mexican border and $31 million for a new Chula Vista Border Patrol station, for the El Centro and Temecula stations, for improvements at Brown Field, for border fencing in San Diego and for better security at the El Centro detention facility. Bush also would hire 570 more Border Patrol agents and 417 new immigration service inspectors.

Would make permanent the research and development tax credit, a boon to California's high-tech and defense-related companies.

Would spend $13 million to expand the Edward J. Schwartz Federal Building at Front Street and Broadway.