San Diego Union Tribune

February 7, 2006

Federal budget for California steers funds to border enforcement, military projects

By Dana Wilkie and Otto Kreisher

WASHINGTON – For the third straight year, President Bush has proposed eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars in federal reimbursements intended to help states with the cost of jailing illegal immigrants who commit crimes. California is the program's top beneficiary.

On the other hand, Bush would increase the U.S. Border Patrol budget to more than $3 billion, a 29 percent increase the administration says would be enough to hire 1,500 additional border agents.

The president proposed $35 million for the San Diego border fence and $100 million for an assortment of new border-enforcement technologies.

These are some of the provisions in Bush's spending plan for next year that would affect California directly.

The state would get $479 million in military construction projects, with about one-third of that in San Diego County.

Camp Pendleton would get the biggest local boost in construction funding, with $170.2 million in proposed work, including $55.5 million for a barracks and dining facility and a headquarters building to support the new Marine Corps Special Operations Force.

On immigration enforcement, Bush also proposed spending $410.2 million to add 6,700 detention beds that would hold illegal immigrants while they await deportation.

Under the administration's current “catch and release” policy, law enforcers release illegal immigrants if there are no detention beds for them, handing them an order to appear in court.

Critics say most of the released immigrants never show up for their court appearances and instead disappear in the United States.

In calling again for the elimination of federal reimbursement of state costs of jailing criminal illegal immigrants, Bush argued that it is not a federal responsibility.

Border-state governors – including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – contend that Washington should pay these costs because it hasn't stemmed the flow of illegal immigrants.

“This is a blow to California, which has received 40 percent of the total federal funding allocated for the program in past years,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “I will work with my colleagues to again ensure that this important program is preserved.”

This year, California must share with other border states about $405 million in State Criminal Alien Assistance Program money, though the state alone will spend far more than that. As Bush has tried to eliminate funding, Congress has restored some of it – putting back $297 million in 2004, $305 million in 2005 and $405 million in the current fiscal year.

Bush's budget plan aims to save billions by shrinking or eliminating domestic programs, including $36 billion that would be saved over five years by cutting Medicare.

“California and San Diego are already hemorrhaging doctors and heath care providers who provide health care services under Medicare,” said Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego. “Under the president's proposed budget, I fear this crisis will only deepen.”

Much of the cuts announced yesterday are in education and include programs that support the arts, vocational education, parent resources and drug-free schools.

Community development block grants would be hit hard. Bush wants to slash $1 billion – or about one-quarter – from the grants, which pay for projects such as graffiti removal and senior-center construction in distressed communities.

Other proposals include:

$230 million to build San Diego's federal courthouse.

$7.7 million for the Mission Valley East light-rail extension and $12.2 million for the Oceanside-Escondido Rail Project.

$10 million for a water transmission main in Alpine.

$38.6 million to “CalFed,” the state-federal effort to balance the water needs of California's farmers, urban areas and wildlife. That's an increase from $37 million this year.

$838 million for Urban Area Security Initiative Grants, which states use to protect against terrorism. It's an increase from $765 million this fiscal year.

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