Obama budget means more cuts for California

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 14, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Californians would face some familiar looking budget cuts under the Obama administration spending plan unveiled to tepid reviews Monday.

The fiscal 2012 budget shrinks police grants, slashes reimbursements for imprisoning criminal aliens and puts some farmers on a modest financial diet. It does little to explicitly help California dig itself out of its own massive budget hole.

While funding flood-control projects in Sacramento and through the San Joaquin Valley, as well as some key Democratic priorities like education, the administration's $3.7 trillion budget proposal overall seems relatively austere for the Golden State.

"There are substantial cuts in the president's budget, all of which will trickle down and have an adverse impact on California," noted Mary Beth Sullivan, executive director of the non-partisan California Institute for Federal Policy Research.

President Barack Obama's proposed cuts, Sullivan added, may still be relatively less draconian for California than those being proposed by House Republicans.

The budget proposal goes beyond mere dollars and cents. For instance, the Obama budget includes language declaring that "a woman may breastfeed her child at any location in a federal building or on federal property."

But the budget mostly talks about money, sometimes in politically dicey ways.

Obama's budget, for instance, proposes cutting the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. This year, the program is providing $300 million to states for incarcerating illegal immigrants who have committed other crimes.

Obama proposes $136 million for next year. California typically receives about one-third of the overall funding, for both state prisons and county jails. Fresno County, for instance, received $816,000 for incarcerating criminal aliens last year, while Sacramento County received $1.7 million, Stanislaus County $196,0000, Merced County $174,000 and San Luis Obispo County $175,000.

In a similar vein, subsidized cotton, rice, wheat and corn growers in California's Central Valley confront proposed cuts to those that administration officials call "the wealthiest farmers." The proposal would block subsidies to growers with more than $500,000 in farm income; the current limit is $750,000.

"This represents a disproportionate cut in the safety net for farmers," said Tim Johnson, president of the Sacramento-based California Rice Commission.

At the same time, Obama proposes keeping the Market Access Program at its current $200 million. The program subsidizes overseas advertising, most recently for such groups as the California Cling Peach Board, California Walnut Commission and California Table Grape Commission.

Some proposed cuts strike directly at California. Obama, for instance, wants to eliminate a $20 million air quality grant that was written specifically to help Central Valley farmers retrofit their dirty old diesel vehicles.

In other cases, the state would take a hit as a result of broader budget savings. Boeing's production plants in Southern California, for instance, would feel the pinch from the administration's proposal to save $2.5 billion through stopping production of the C-17 military transport.

The C-17 proposal will hit political turbulence, as support for the aircraft includes jobs-oriented California liberals like Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer as well as traditional military hawks. The House Armed Services Committee is chaired by Southern California conservative Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of Santa Clarita.

Still other cuts shrink programs popular among Obama's own Democratic base. Obama, for instance, proposes a 7.5 percent reduction in the Community Development Block Grant program.

"If we're going to walk the walk when it comes to fiscal discipline, these kinds of cuts will be necessary," Obama told a Baltimore audience Monday morning.

Many California cities would feel this cut. Last year, for instance, Fresno received about $12 million, Merced about $2 million, Modesto about $3.9 million and Sacramento about $10.7 million in block grant funding.

The budget released Monday is entering into a federal spending debate that's already well underway, with some rapidly approaching decision points important to California.

This week, for instance, the House will vote on a so-called "continuing resolution" that keeps the federal government operating through fiscal 2011. The measure includes controversial language to block money from being used to restore the San Joaquin River or reduce San Joaquin Valley irrigation water deliveries.

"These no-cost provisions prove that Washington doesn't need to spend vast amounts of borrowed dollars to put Americans back to work," asserted Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.

But the spending provisions will likely face resistance in the Senate, where Democratic. Sen. Dianne Feinstein authored the original San Joaquin River restoration bill. Obama's proposed fiscal 2012 budget includes funding for the river restoration.

"If the (Nunes) language were to be adopted, the matter would end up in court again, to the detriment of all Californians," John Laird, secretary of the California Department of Natural Resources, advised Feinstein in a new letter.

Other California water projects, by contrast, generally make fewer waves.

The Obama budget includes $399,000 for Merced County streams, $1 million to raise Folsom Dam and boost its flood-control capacity, $5 million for levee and channel improvements along South Sacramento streams and $18 million to improve the safety of Success Dam on the Tule River east of Porterville.

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