Union Tribune

February 4, 2003

Budget sends a mixed message to California
High-tech firms may benefit while road work suffers


WASHINGTON President Bush's proposed budget is a mixed bag for California, offering high-tech and defense companies significant new money to fight terrorism at home and wars abroad, yet slashing funds for roads and for imprisoning criminal immigrants.

Bush's plan to spend $59 billion on computers, network equipment and other information technology to make the country safer from terrorists and wartime attacks could be a boon for the state's high-tech companies. The amount represents a $6.5 billion increase or 12.3 percent over last year's request.

"This investment is a smart move by a tech-savvy president," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. "The increases . . . will make government smarter, better and faster in serving its citizens, fighting the war on terror and making the world safer."

Californians who have endured wildfires such as last summer's Pines fire that destroyed thousands of acres of mountain and canyon land near Julian will be glad for Bush's decision to spend $2.2 billion nationwide on firefighting programs, an increase of $219 million over last year. Budget documents do not say how much of that money the state would get.

Bush also is proposing a new $11 million Western Water Initiative to find solutions to the competing demands on limited water supplies in states such as California. The money will be spent mostly on the Bureau of Reclamation's efforts to deliver water and power to western states.

At the same time, Bush would eliminate all federal reimbursements for putting criminal aliens in prison. The program, called the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, mostly benefits California, which is home to the vast majority of such prisoners. Congress this year is expected to put about $565 million into the program.

"This would further strap a corrections system that's already running on empty," said Tim Ransdell, who runs the California Institute for Federal Policy Research.

Like last year, the president wants to cut money for roads, which is bad news for the state's congested highways.

Bush's budget would slice nearly 10 percent from the amount Congress is expected to spend on roads in the current year from $32 billion to $28.6 billion.

"There will be a lot of people mad about this," said Keith Ashdown, spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The White House pointed out the portions of the budget that were more beneficial to California, notably in education spending. For instance, Bush would spend nearly $1.8 billion on schools in the poorest areas of California, an increase of almost $390 million. He would also put $1 billion into programs that help school kids with disabilities, an increase of $233 million.

Bush would spend about $8.4 billion on various ships, aircraft and weapons that San Diego companies are helping build, assemble or provide parts for. He would spend almost $200 million on housing, airplane hangars, training facilities and other items at the region's military bases. Another $9 billion for the research and development of ballistic missiles would benefit hundreds of California contractors.