WASHINGTON — California and other financially strapped states will lose tens of millions of federal dollars that they spend to jail illegal immigrants charged with crimes, under Congress' latest spending bill.
The $1.1 trillion plan, finalized by House and Senate negotiators Tuesday night, combines six of the large yearly appropriations bills passed by Congress to keep the government running.
State officials and members of the California congressional delegation had lobbied hard once again to increase aid to the states for the program, hoping to cash in on California's increased clout in Washington this year.
But their efforts fell flat, with the program set to be cut by more than 18 percent.
"It's a hit to many states, but more so to California because we get the lion's share of the appropriation," H.D. Palmer, budget spokesman for Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said Wednesday.
He estimated that the cut could cost California $16 million this year, rising to $22 million on an annualized basis beginning next year. Palmer said the state and its localities receive roughly 38 percent of the money that Congress appropriates for the program each year.
"That's something we're going to have to take into account as we close out decisions this week and next on the (state) budget that the governor will submit to the Legislature in January," Palmer said.
Overall, spending for the program would fall from $400 million to $330 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP, which President Barack Obama had targeted for elimination. It's a formula grant program that provides aid to states and localities for correctional officer salary costs incurred for jailing criminal undocumented immigrants.
California spends nearly $1 billion a year on the program.
The plan is drawing bipartisan opposition from the California delegation.
"The state of California cannot afford any reduction in federal funding for this program, especially when the state is facing its own budget shortfall," said Sacramento Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui.
"When it comes to illegal immigration, the federal government has to step up," said Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.
"We have a responsibility to protect our borders," McCarthy said. "The federal government has the responsibility to do this. Those who live in border states take an unfair disadvantage, and it's not right. I think there will be a heavy debate about this."
California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she was disappointed.
"The cost of incarcerating criminal aliens in jails and prisons is high, and for every dollar cut from SCAAP, less money is available to fund critical public safety services that keep our communities safe," she said.
"It is the federal government's responsibility to control immigration – we must maintain our commitment to the sheriffs and police who are footing the bill for our broken federal immigration system."
Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove said the federal government should be paying the entire bill.
"I think the federal government has a 100 percent responsibility to fund the incarceration of illegal aliens since the federal government has exclusive responsibility over the integrity of our borders," he said.
"Not one of those illegal aliens would be in our prisons today, nor would it have been possible for them to commit their crimes, had it not been for the abandonment by the federal government under Republican and Democratic administrations to protect the integrity of our borders."