San Diego Union Tribune

February 3, 2004

Bush budget holds promise for California and boost for governor


WASHINGTON In what could be a significant victory for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California stands to gain considerably more money to fight terrorism under the budget that President Bush unveiled yesterday.

The president's plan sure to face obstacles in Congress because it would force other states to lose money would eliminate the current method of dividing homeland security dollars, and instead give more weight to the threat that each state faces from terrorist attacks.

"It appears that California stands to do much better than it has in the past," said Tim Ransdell, executive director of the California Institute for Federal Policy Research. "I'm sure many will view it as a Schwarzenegger victory."

Under the Bush plan, California also may be in line for more money from the Defense Department.

The president's budget would provide just over half as much in military construction funding for California projects as last year's plan, but would spend more on major weapons programs in which Southern California firms have key roles.

It also would increase funding for ship and aircraft maintenance, which could mean more work for San Diego's ship repair yards and the aviation depot at North Island Naval Air Station.

While there are political roadblocks ahead, Ransdell believes that the Bush plan could result in more homeland security funds for California.

California leaders have complained that the first 40 percent of homeland security dollars are divided among states equally, and that the remaining 60 percent is based merely on the population in each state. None of the money, in other words, is based on the terrorist threat faced by each state.

California this year got $175 million in so-called State and Local Homeland Security Formula Grants barely 8 percent of the $2.2 billion that Washington spent nationwide.

Though Bush in this coming year would spend less on the grants only $1.3 billion he is counting on a plan by Rep. Chris Cox, R-Newport Beach, that would divide the money according to the terrorist threat faced by each state. This would do away with "small state" guarantees that give Wyoming $35.67 per capita of homeland security money while California gets only $4.85.

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Schwarzenegger's Department of Finance, said his office would not comment until it had reviewed the budget.

Bush also wants to double money for Urban Area Security Initiative Grants, which states also use to protect against terrorism. If Congress approves Bush's plan to spend $1.4 billion this coming year, California could get as much as $284 million twice as much as last year.

"A raise means we can take additional steps to increase and improve measures that we already have in place and add to them additional programs that rely on the most advanced technology to keep us safe," said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

The budget proposal also includes $411 million more than last year for homeland security efforts through the U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard.

And it proposes a 3.5 percent military pay raise and another increase in reimbursement for housing expenses for military personnel living off base. Those increases would pump additional hundreds of millions into the state's economy.

Other revelations in Bush's proposed budget, however, were not so rosy for California.

As he did last year, Bush proposes eliminating federal reimbursements to states for jailing undocumented immigrants who commit crimes. The Republican president argues that the so-called State Criminal Alien Assistance Program should not be a federal responsibility. Last year, Congress approved $290 million in payments to the states despite Bush's objections. California received 40 percent of the funds, an estimated $120 million.

Governors from border states including Schwarzenegger contend that Washington should pay these costs because it has failed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants across international borders.

"Without such funding, states will not be reimbursed for their share of incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens," said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat.

Criminal justice officials are upset over the president's plan to eliminate $225 million that was spent last year on local law enforcement block grants, COPS funding and other criminal justice assistance programs. Bush proposed eliminating or sharply curtailing those programs last year, but Congress reinstated them.

Over the past several years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given California $12 million under its Emergency Conservation Program, and much of it was recently set aside for the devastating fires that struck San Diego and other communities in the state. The White House, however, does not add money to the program in its new budget.

Bush proposes spending $15 million on "CalFed," a state-federal effort to balance the water needs of California's farmers, people and wildlife.

Although Bush proposed the same amount for 2004, Congress ended up giving the project only $9 million.

Bush also proposed:

$65 million for the Mission Valley East light-rail transit extension and $48 million for the Oceanside-Escondido Rail Project.

$64.2 million for four construction programs at Camp Pendleton another enlisted barracks, further improvements to the sewage treatment system, a close-combat pistol course and operations center and a maintenance shop.

$47 million to beef up truck inspections at state borders and $65 million for commercial driver's license programs both to support the White House plan to let Mexican trucks into the country during the next year. But the budget plan does not include any funding for new border inspection facilities, for which $27 million was spent last year.

$34 million for a border station expansion at San Ysidro, and $3 million to expand downtown San Diego's federal courthouse.

$10 million for wastewater treatment in Coronado.

$1 million project for a mobility support building for the Special Operations Command at North Island.

Copley News Service correspondent Otto Kreisher contributed to this report.