SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday disputed claims that illegal immigrants caused California's $24.3 billion deficit, while he praised their economic contributions and said he is "happy" they have access to services.
The Republican governor, answering wide-ranging questions from The Bee's editorial board and its readers, also vented about roadblocks to his authority posed by political foes and warned that government can't sustain the current level of "unbelievable benefits" for public-sector workers.
In response to dozens of questions from readers who say the state ought to wipe out the deficit by eliminating services for illegal immigrants, the governor said it is a "myth" that those immigrants are to blame.
He said the cost of services to illegal immigrants, which has been estimated at $4 billion to $5 billion annually, is a "small percentage" of the deficit California faces.
"Yes, it is something that ought to be dealt with, but the fact of the matter is, I think it's an easy scapegoat for people to point the finger and say, 'Our budget is out of whack because of illegal immigrants.' "
"It's not," he added. "Our budget is out of whack because we have self-inflicted wounds that the Legislature and this state has never really sat down and had the will to go and make the necessary changes that have to be made."
The governor noted that the federal government requires California to provide emergency health care and education to illegal immigrants. Schwarzenegger in 2006 renounced his 1994 vote for Proposition 187, the initiative to block most services for illegal immigrants, which courts deemed unconstitutional.
"You know something, as far as I'm concerned, I'm happy that they can get the services," he said Friday. "Because I would like to have the services if I'm somewhere in another country … if I have an accident with a motorcycle and I go to an emergency room, I don't want someone to say, is he here legally?"
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