Obama’s budget has pros and cons for California, but it’s all moot

McClatchy Washington BureauMarch 4, 2014 

— Clued-in Californians should quickly check out the Obama administration’s proposed Fiscal 2015 budget, because it won’t last long.

On its face, the $3.9 trillion budget served up Tuesday includes plenty for Californians to chew over. There’s money for buying public lands, but not for helping states incarcerate unauthorized immigrants. There’s more for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which currently aids 3 million California households, but less for crop insurance subsidies used by the state’s farmers.

Some specific California projects also get a budget shout-out, including $37 million for restoring the crucial San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Not far away, the administration’s blueprint calls for adding 475 acres to the Grasslands Wildlife Management Area, 91 acres to the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge and, in the Sierra Nevada mountains, 620 acres to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.

“This is a solid budget,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters at a budget briefing. “It’s responsible.”

The detailed budget proposal that spans over 1,500 pages and multiple documents, though, is likely to be as short-lived as it is far-reaching. It includes presidential priorities House Republicans disfavor and putative cuts that Congress invariably restores. Inevitably, it prompted immediate scorn from the GOP lawmakers who control half of Capitol Hill.

“The American people don’t elect presidents to sit on the sidelines,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., a member of the House Budget and Appropriations committees. “Yet once again, President Obama has sent a budget to Congress that lacks leadership.”

The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program exemplifies the illusory, or at least temporary, nature of some of the Obama budget proposals.

Roughly 13 percent of California state prison inmates are in the United States illegally, and in some county jails the percentage is even higher. The program begun several decades ago reimburses states and localities for a small part of the overall incarceration costs.

Last year, the program that the Obama administration now says it wants to end provided $52 million to California and more than half-a-million dollars each to Fresno, Sacramento and Tulare counties, according to the Justice Department.

California lawmakers, who have been through this political exercise many times before, will now join with allies in other immigration-impacted states to retain least some of the funding.

In a similar vein, the White House budget targets some 100 programs across the federal government for various “cuts, consolidations and savings.” If the cuts actually happen, some pain would be felt in California.

For instance, a Community Services Block Grant program that last year provided $60 million for California would be sliced in half under the White House proposal. In prior years, counties including San Joaquin, Sacramento and Fresno have all received more than $1 million each from this program.

Some still-unnamed Agriculture Department offices in California would close, under the budget’s call to “close or consolidate 250 offices” nationwide. Past proposals to shut down rural offices have faced congressional resistance.

“The 2015 budget recognizes fiscal realities,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack insisted Monday. “It supports USDA’s ongoing efforts to modernize and update the way we do business.”

By eliminating a Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant program, the administration says it can save $160 million. In California, the funding has supported a “Say Yes to Water” campaign designed to cut children’s soda consumption. Obama similarly targeted the program for elimination last year; Congress funded it anyway.

The Capitol Hill fights to come will center on the so-called “discretionary” part of the budget, which amounts to about $1.1 trillion of the total. In theory, this gets worked out first by the House Appropriations Committee, whose sole member from the Central Valley is freshman Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif. This could put Valadao in a key spot right as he faces a potentially tough Democratic challenge, though in recent years the Appropriations panel has seen its traditional power wane.

In the Senate, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein chairs the Appropriations committee’s energy and water panel.

Email: mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10.

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